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US lunar lander: 'No chance' of soft landing

January 9, 2024

The commercial US spacecraft has experienced technical problems, developing a fuel leak that will allow it to operate in space but not touch down on the moon.

Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander being launched at Cape Canaveral, Florida
The Peregrine was set to be the first US lunar lander to touch down on the moon in over 50 yearsImage: CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP

Representatives from the private space company Astrobotic Technology on Tuesday announced that the Peregrine commercial lunar lander will not complete its mission as planned, saying there is "no chance" of the vessel landing softly on the moon as intended.

Scientists are seeking to determine what the vessel's mission would now be, saying it could still be operated "as a spacecraft."

What happened to the Peregrine lunar lander?

Astrobotic reported that the vessel had developed a fuel leak after it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on Monday, leaving it with roughly 40 hours worth of propellant by Tuesday. 

Launched with the new Vulcan rocket — developed by Boeing and Lockheed Martin under the joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) — the Peregrine experienced a "propulsion system issue" en route.

First US lunar lander in decades heads for moon

That meant that it was also initially unable to correctly position itself to charge its rapidly draining batteries, as its solar panels were not facing the sun. However, engineers were able to resolve the issue. 

"The team continues to work to find ways to extend Peregrine's operational life," said representatives from Astrobotic.

Despite the fact that the vessel will not complete its mission as planned, Astrobotic said engineers continue to receive important data that will allow it to test component and software operability for future missions.

NASA delays return of astronauts to the moon

The US space agency NASA on Tuesday also announced that its plans to return astronauts to the moon's orbit and then later to its surface have each been pushed back by at least a year due to technical issues.

The failed Peregrine mission was part of NASA's larger commercial program and intended to scout the moon ahead of the return of humans to its surface — now scheduled for September 2026.

What's behind the reawakened interest in the moon?

js/rt (AFP, Reuters)