Astrobotic’s Peregrine Moon Lander burns up in Earth’s atmosphere

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Moon Lander burns up in Earth’s atmosphere

A spacecraft that was destined for the moon’s surface ended up crashing back to Earth instead, where it burned up in the planet’s atmosphere Thursday afternoon.

The astronomical technology was announced in Pittsburgh at Posted on social network X It lost contact with the Peregrine Moon lander at 3:50 p.m. ET, which signaled its entry into Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific Ocean at approximately 4:04 p.m.

The company said: “We are awaiting independent confirmation from government agencies.”

It was an intentional, if disappointing, end to a 10-day journey that covered more than half a million miles, as the vehicle passed the moon’s orbit before swinging back toward Earth. But the spacecraft never got close to its landing destination on the near side of the Moon.

The main payloads aboard the spacecraft were from NASA, as part of an effort to conduct lunar experiments at a lower cost using commercial companies. Astrobotic’s launch was the first for the program, known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS. NASA paid Astrobotic $108 million to fly five experiments.

Peregrine launched flawlessly on January 8 from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on the maiden flight of an entirely new rocket known as Vulcan. But shortly after it separated from the rocket’s second stage, its propulsion system suffered a major malfunction, and the spacecraft was unable to keep its solar panels pointed toward the sun.

Astrobotic engineers were able to redirect Peregrine so its battery could recharge. But a propellant leak made the planned moon landing impossible. The company’s current hypothesis is that the valve failed to close, causing the high-pressure helium flow to rupture the fuel tank.

Astrobotic initially estimated that Peregrine would run out of propellant and die within two days. But as the leak slowed, the spacecraft continued to operate. All 10 powered payloads, including four from NASA, were successfully powered, demonstrating that the spacecraft’s power systems are working. (NASA’s fifth payload, a laser reflector, did not need power.) Other customer payloads were also powered, including a small rover built by students at Carnegie Mellon University and experiments by the German and Mexican space agencies.

Over the weekend, the company said the spacecraft, which was veered off course by a propellant leak, was on track to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. The company said it decided to leave Peregrine on this path to prevent the possibility of the disabled spacecraft colliding with satellites around Earth.

More landers aiming for the moon.

On Friday, Japan’s robotic spacecraft currently orbiting the Moon, SLIM, will attempt to land on the lunar surface. Landing will take place at approximately 10:20 a.m. ET. (This will be early Saturday morning, 12:20 a.m., in Japan.)

The next NASA-funded commercial mission, which will be carried out by Intuitive Machines of Houston, could launch in mid-February.

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