February 29, 2024

It’s been quite a ride for Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander. When it launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Monday, January 8, there were high hopes that it would become the first U.S. mission to touch down on the moon since the final Apollo voyage in December 1972. Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic was also vying to become the first commercial endeavor to land on the moon.

But it wasn’t to be.

Just hours after liftoff, the company revealed that the Peregrine spacecraft had suffered a critical propellant leak that would prevent it from reaching the lunar surface in February, as planned.

Despite the setback, the mission team remained upbeat and managed to keep Peregrine flying, helped in part by an easing in the rate of leakage. It was also able to power up and collect data from some of the 21 payloads that Peregrine is carrying for a range of organizations, NASA among them.

But with the spacecraft gradually losing power, the decision was recently taken to nudge the vehicle on a trajectory toward Earth, where a high-speed reentry will cause most if not all of the tool shed-sized machine to burn up. The alternative would’ve been to leave it in orbit where it would’ve become yet another piece of hazardous space junk.

In its latest update on Wednesday, Astrobotic said it had managed to perform a series of short engine burns to place Peregrine on a route that will lead to its fiery end.

The engine burns also allowed the company to direct the spacecraft toward a remote area over the Pacific , about 850 miles north of New Zealand and 450 miles east of New Caledonia.

“The procedures the team executed were to minimize the risk of debris reaching land,” Astrobotic said in a release, adding that it expects reentry to occur at about 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. PT) on Thursday, January 18.

A map showing the approximate location of Peregrine’s reentry. Astrobotic

The company is planning to hold a teleconference the following day at 1 p.m. ET (10 a.m. PT) to share a detailed update on the mission.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission 1 was part of NASA’s new CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program in which it contracts commercial firms to send science missions to the moon ahead of the first Artemis crewed landing, which could take place in 2026.

Astrobotic will take plenty of lessons from its failed Peregrine mission and apply them to its next attempt to reach the moon — with the Griffin lander — in November.

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