Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine robotic lunar lander suffered a technical glitch in space, casting doubt on the start-up’s plans to land the spacecraft on the moon at the end of February.
After launching from Florida at 2.18am local time on Monday aboard United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan booster, the Peregrine lander separated from the rocket roughly 50 minutes after takeoff and “entered a safe operational state” before the problem happened.
“Unfortunately, an anomaly then occurred, which prevented Astrobotic from achieving a stable sun-pointing orientation,” Astrobotic said in an update posted on X.
In a second update, Astrobotic said that an issue with the spacecraft’s propulsion may to be blame for preventing the lander from reaching the right orientation. The issue “threatens the ability of the spacecraft to soft-land on the moon”, Astrobotic said.
After briefly losing communication with the spacecraft on Monday, the Astrobotic team reestablished communication with the lander and performed an “improvised manoeuvre” that reorientated the spacecraft’s solar panels towards the sun, the company said in another post.
However, Astrobotic was still trying to figure out the suspected propulsion failure and later confirmed the lander was losing critical propellant in space. Given the situation, the company said it was “assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time”, indicating that a lunar landing attempt may no longer be an option.
In recent years, numerous countries and commercial companies have attempted to land robotic spacecraft on the moon with varied success. An Israeli non-profit named SpaceIL and a Japanese company called Ispace made attempts to land vehicles in 2019 and 2023, respectively, but both spacecraft slammed into the surface. After a botched attempt to land on the moon in 2019, India successfully landed a spacecraft on the lunar surface in August, becoming the fourth country to put a vehicle intact on the moon.
Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander was developed in partnership with Nasa as part of the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services programme, or CLPS, which aims to foster private development of spacecraft that can ferry payloads to the moon. When it took off, Peregrine was the first US-made lunar lander to launch to space since the Apollo programme.
“Each success and setback are opportunities to learn and grow,” Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at Nasa’s Science Mission Directorate, said in an e-mailed statement. “We will use this lesson to propel our efforts to advance science, exploration, and commercial development of the moon.”
Another CLPS partner, Houston-based Intuitive Machines, is set to launch its lunar lander as soon as mid-February. — Loren Grush, (c) 2024 Bloomberg LP