The maiden moon lander to be launched from the United States in fifty years is now deemed incapable of achieving a successful lunar surface landing due to a fuel leak, as declared by its operators. The Peregrine 1, aiming to be the first commercial space probe accomplishing a soft moon landing, experienced a critical propellant loss shortly after liftoff on Monday due to an anomaly in the propulsion system, according to Astrobotic, the US company leading the project.
Initially concerned about the spacecraft’s inability to orient itself toward the sun for battery charging, the Astrobotic team later announced a successful improvised maneuver to activate the solar array. However, a subsequent statement from the Pittsburgh-based company revealed that the thrusters could likely operate for a maximum of 40 more hours. The revised objective is now to position Peregrine as close to lunar distance as possible before losing its ability to maintain a sun-pointing position and subsequently losing power.
In the latest update released on Tuesday, Astrobotic confirmed that the spacecraft unfortunately has no chance of executing a soft landing on the moon. The new mission goal is to gather data from Peregrine 1 that may prove valuable for future lunar landing endeavors, according to Astrobotic.
The lander, carrying scientific equipment from NASA, launched on the Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral, marking the inaugural use of the potent new rocket developed by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed venture. Peregrine was scheduled to touch down on the moon on February 23, initiating data collection on the lunar surface to support research for upcoming human missions.
Onboard instruments include devices for measuring radiation levels, surface and subsurface water ice, the magnetic field, and the exosphere, an extremely tenuous layer of gas. Additionally, the lander carries five small moon rovers, each weighing less than 60g and measuring 12cm across. Non-scientific payloads encompass DNA from former US presidents such as George Washington, John F Kennedy, and Dwight Eisenhower, along with the ashes of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, and former stars of the TV series.
Responding to the lander’s failure reports, NASA stated it is collaborating with Astrobotic to determine the root cause of the propulsion problem, acknowledging the challenges of space exploration. Subsequently, NASA announced additional delays to its Artemis moon program, postponing the first astronaut lunar landing in 50 years to 2026. The Artemis 3 mission, utilizing SpaceX’s Starship, is now scheduled for September 2026, previously planned for late 2025, as announced by NASA.