Peregrine Moon Lander and Cargo to Disintegrate in Earth’s Atmosphere
It seems the ill-fated Peregrine lunar lander will meet its end where its journey began – burning up in Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft has been leaking rocket fuel ever since an “anomaly” shortly after launch on January 8th. Its operators, Astrobotic, have been posting constant updates on the vehicle’s status. On Saturday, the company concluded Peregrine no longer has enough fuel left to achieve a stable lunar orbit.
When the leak was first detected, no one expected Peregrine to make it this far. But the gutsy little lander greatly exceeded expectations – traveling nearly a quarter million miles from Earth before petering out. Mission operators had hoped Peregrine would catch up to the moon, about six days after launch. But sadly, its truncated fuel supply gave out too early.
In its last update on Saturday, Astrobotic wrote: “Our analysis efforts have been challenging due to the propellant leak, which have been adding uncertainty to predictions of the vehicle’s trajectory. Our latest assessment now shows the spacecraft is on a path towards Earth, where it will likely burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Astrobotic CEO John Thornton will join NASA officials this Thursday for a press conference further discussing Peregrine’s ultimate fate.
Moon landings have infamously high risks. As part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, the Peregrine mission marked the first contracted commercial moon delivery attempt. Ahead of launch, managers cautioned that success could not be guaranteed.
While the outcome is bittersweet, the embattled spacecraft yielded critical lessons for NASA’s budding lunar transportation market. Future vehicles will be engineered to avoid Peregrine’s Achilles heel – enabling the safe delivery of scientific payloads to expand our understanding of Earth’s nearest neighbor.