Astrobotic’s Peregrine One Mission Setback and Silver Linings in Lunar Exploration


Private American lunar mission, Peregrine One, faced a tragic end over the Pacific Ocean as a propulsion fault thwarted its lunar landing ambitions. The Pittsburgh-based operator, Astrobotic, chose to command the craft’s destruction in Earth’s atmosphere after a loss of signal was confirmed by a tracking station in Canberra, Australia, at 20:59 GMT.


Despite the setback, Astrobotic managed to salvage valuable lessons and achievements from the mission. The primary goal was to deliver five NASA instruments to the Moon’s surface for studying the local environment, anticipating future astronaut missions. Unfortunately, Peregrine One’s failure to land dashed hopes of becoming the first private venture to achieve lunar touchdown.

The mission encountered trouble soon after launch on January 8, with a propulsion fault originating from leaking propellant in a ruptured oxidizer tank. This caused a thrust that disrupted the craft’s orientation, hindering the vital task of keeping its solar panels aligned with the sun for power supply.

Astrobotic’s engineering team, however, showcased resilience and ingenuity by diagnosing the problem and extending the lander’s operational life beyond initial expectations. The spacecraft’s thrusters were employed to restore stable pointing, albeit at the cost of depleting oxidizer at an accelerated rate.

Despite the challenges, some of the payloads were activated successfully, demonstrating their space worthiness. The Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS), a NASA instrument developed in the UK by the Open University and RAL Space, performed well in check-out tests. The gathered data, including insights into the radiation environment between Earth and the Moon, adds to the scientific value of the mission.

Sian Cleaver, Airbus’ Orion European Service Module industrial manager, emphasized the mission’s engineering success, emphasizing the difficulties inherent in space travel and the valuable lessons learned.

Astrobotic remains undeterred, being the first of three U.S. companies involved in a private-public partnership with NASA to send a lander to the Moon this year. The agency is collaborating with Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and Firefly, collectively planning six lunar surface missions in 2024. Astrobotic aims for a second attempt in the latter part of the year, planning to land a NASA rover named Viper.

The lunar exploration landscape continues to evolve, with Intuitive Machines preparing for its upcoming mission and the Japanese space agency scheduled to attempt a near-equatorial landing close to the Shioli impact crater on Friday at 15:20 GMT. The challenges faced by Peregrine One underline the complexities of space exploration, reinforcing the notion that setbacks are integral to the learning curve in humanity’s journey beyond Earth.

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