The recent journey of a private US lunar lander, known as the Peregrine lander, has been mired with problems and setbacks. From the start of its ill-fated voyage on January 8, when it blasted off on a brand new Vulcan rocket built by United Launch Alliance, the lander has been facing numerous issues. Shortly after separating from the rocket, the Peregrine lander experienced an onboard explosion, leading to the significant loss of propellant. As a result, its chances of making a soft lunar touchdown were extinguished. Despite this setback, the lander’s team managed to power up science experiments for NASA and other space agencies, as well as gather valuable spaceflight data.
Now, after more than five days in space and located 242,000 miles (390,000 kilometers) away from Earth, the Peregrine lander is headed back towards our planet. However, it is expected to meet a fiery end as it reenters the Earth’s atmosphere. Astrobotic, the Pittsburgh-based company behind the lander, has confirmed that the spacecraft will likely burn up upon reentry. The team is currently assessing options for the lander, but the chances of salvaging the mission appear slim.
Space enthusiasts and researchers had closely followed the trajectory of the Peregrine lander, hoping that it could achieve a “hard landing” on the Moon, similar to failed landers in the past. Unfortunately, it has become evident that even this reduced goal will not be accomplished. This failure marks another setback in the pursuit of successful soft landings. Astrobotic joins the ranks of an Israeli nonprofit and a Japanese company that have also encountered failures in their attempts at lunar landings.
The failure of the Peregrine lander is not only a disappointment for Astrobotic but also a costly setback for NASA. The space agency had invested over $100 million in Astrobotic as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which aims to foster a commercial lunar economy while reducing NASA’s own expenses. This failed mission showcases the inherent risks and uncertainties of space exploration.
Despite the setback, NASA remains determined to continue its pursuit of lunar exploration. The agency’s strategy of “more shots on goal” highlights the importance of persistence and resilience in the face of failures. Houston-based Intuitive Machines is slated to launch its lunar lander in February, providing another opportunity for success. Astrobotic itself will also have another chance in November with its Griffin lander, which will transport NASA’s VIPER rover to the lunar south pole.
The failed journey of the Peregrine lander serves as a reminder of the challenges and risks involved in space exploration. The leaking fuel and onboard explosion derailed the mission, leaving the lander on a path towards Earth where it will ultimately burn up in the atmosphere. This setback not only marks a loss for Astrobotic but also for NASA, which had invested significant resources in the mission. However, it is essential to remember that failure is inherent to progress, and with each setback, new lessons are learned, bringing us closer to achieving our goals in space exploration.