“No chance”: Astrobotic confirmed to miss moonshot

The company hoping to be the first private enterprise to land on the Moon concedes its quest is over.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic launched its Peregrine spacecraft on board a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket on Monday.

It had high hopes of being the first private company to successfully land a vehicle on the Moon’s surface. If successful, it would also mark the return of a United States presence to the lunar soil for the first time since the Apollo missions ended 52 years ago.

Side view of the astrobotic peregrine space craft from a rear view camera in space.
It’s been disappointment for Astrobotic after disruption to its Peregrine space craft (pictured as distortion to the hull in the foreground) saw a continual propellant leak. Credit: Astrobotic.

But despite a satisfactory separation from the rocket and activation of the propulsion systems on board the Peregrine vehicle, a propellant issue caused the spacecraft’s solar arrays to point away from the Sun. That has denied the ship’s power systems a consistent flow of vital solar energy to fuel its mission.

An ongoing propellant leak also means Peregrine will have insufficient fuel to execute its controlled landing onto the surface.

While Astrobotic’s mission team attempted to remedy these issues, it has now scratched plans for a Moon landing.

“Overnight, the team faced another spacecraft [Sun] pointing issue but continues to persevere. The spacecraft started to tilt away from the Sun and reduced its solar power generation. The team was able to update the control algorithm and fix this issue. The batteries are at full charge,” it said in a statement.

“Given the propellant leak, there is, unfortunately, no chance of a soft landing on the Moon. However, we do still have enough propellant to continue to operate the vehicle as a spacecraft. The team has updated its estimates, and we currently expect to run out of propellant in about 40 hours from now.”

What next for Astrobotic, Peregrine and private lunar landings?

Failure to complete its Moon landing means Peregrine will be lost to space, along with its scientific and cultural payload. That includes 10 scientific experiments as well as several commemorative items including bitcoin, DNA of former US presidents, and ashes of Australian-born Apollo 14 mission scientist Philip Chapman, and the creator and three actors from the original Star Trek films and TV series.

Astrobotic is scheduled to send another lunar lander later this year. That mission, named Griffin, is scheduled to deploy several experiments to the Moon’s south pole, including those intended to be tested on the failed Peregrine mission.

No commercial endeavour has yet landed on the Moon’s surface, with only the national space agencies of the US, Soviet Union, China and India successful in doing so.

Private companies that have so far attempted landings include the Hakuto lander from Japan’s iSpace, which crashed into the Moon in May 2023, and the Beresheet lander from Israel-based SpaceIL which crashed in April 2019.

The door is now open for another US enterprise called Intuitive Machines to make history for commercial Moon landings. It is tracking to launch its IM-1 mission on a SpaceX rocket in mid-February.

Buy cosmos print magazine

Please login to favourite this article.