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January 11, 2024

Astrobotic's Moon Mission Faces Uncertain Fate Following Fuel Leak

The lunar dream hangs in the balance as Astrobotic, the Pittsburgh-based innovator behind the mission

In a setback that echoes across the cosmos, Pittsburgh-based startup Astrobotic has revealed that its lunar lander, Peregrine, stands little chance of executing a soft landing on the Moon due to a critical fuel leak. The ambitious mission, part of a pioneering private-public partnership with NASA, has encountered unforeseen challenges, putting a dent in the dreams of witnessing the first U.S. lunar touchdown in half a century.

Astrobotic's Peregrine faced difficulties right from the onset, as engineers observed its struggle to maintain optimal solar panel orientation for charging its battery shortly after launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The culprit was swiftly identified—a substantial leak in the propulsion system, nudging Peregrine out of alignment. The craft's thrusters are now working overtime to counterbalance, further depleting its dwindling fuel supply.

Astrobotic's latest estimates paint a grim picture, indicating that Peregrine has less than 40 hours before it exhausts its propellant, leaving the spacecraft tumbling in the void. The moment of reckoning signifies not only the loss of power for the lander, with its solar panels unable to harvest sunlight, but also dashes hopes of achieving a historic U.S. lunar landing.

Even before Astrobotic's official announcement, it became evident that the ambitious mission, backed by NASA, faced insurmountable odds. NASA had invested in the Peregrine lander to carry five instruments for studying the lunar surface environment—a crucial step ahead of planned human missions later this decade.

As the Peregrine's lunar aspirations hang in the balance, this setback marks a poignant moment in the journey towards lunar exploration. Astrobotic, the trailblazer in a new lunar partnership with NASA, symbolizes the risks inherent in venturing into uncharted territories. Despite this setback, NASA remains steadfast in its commitment to fostering private-sector innovation and cost reduction in space exploration. The uncertainty surrounding Peregrine's fate underscores the challenges and unpredictability that come with pushing the boundaries of space exploration.

Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Neil Hodgson-Coyle
Editorial chief at TechNews180
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