Lunar Lander To Burn Up in Atmosphere

Rendering of Peregrine lander on lunar surface | Image by Astrobotic Technology

The nation’s first commercial lunar lander will end its journey by burning up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Astrobotic Technology announced that it launched its Peregrine Mission One lunar lander aboard a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket, bearing multiple payloads on January 8. Not long after its launch, however, an anomaly in its propulsion system set the entire mission in peril as the craft lost power and began leaking propellant, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The company announced on Friday that the craft was operational at 238,000 miles from Earth, meaning that it had reached “lunar distance.” The craft was intended to reach the moon 15 days after launch. However, the craft is expected to run out of fuel before then as a result of the leaking propellant.

On Saturday, officials determined that the craft was on a “path towards Earth,” but would likely burn up in the atmosphere.

Six days after the launch, Astrobotic announced that NASA and the U.S. government had recommended that the “safe and responsible” decision was to end the mission and allow the craft to be destroyed on reentry. The craft is said to only have enough fuel to maintain a sun-pointing position and perform small maneuvers.

“Ultimately, we must balance our own desire to extend Peregrine’s life, operate payloads, and learn more about the spacecraft, with the risk that our damaged spacecraft could cause a problem in cislunar space. As such, we have made the difficult decision to maintain the current spacecraft’s trajectory to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere,” reads the company’s update from Sunday. “By responsibly ending Peregrine’s mission, we are doing our part to preserve the future of cislunar space for all.”

The craft’s reentry is not expected to pose any ground-level risks. Despite not completing its mission, the lander did manage to achieve some of its scientific objectives.

Astrobotic will host a teleconference with NASA to discuss other mission updates.

“I am so proud of what our team has accomplished with this mission. It is a great honor to witness firsthand the heroic efforts of our mission control team overcoming enormous challenges to recover and operate the spacecraft after Monday’s propulsion anomaly,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic.

“I look forward to sharing these, and more remarkable stories, after the mission concludes on January 18. This mission has already taught us so much and has given me great confidence that our next mission to the Moon will achieve a soft landing.”

The lander is currently about 218,000 miles away from Earth as of the company’s latest update on Monday.

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