Disastrous lunar rover on its way back to Earth

Henry

A private US lunar lander that leaked fuel throughout its journey is now on its way to Earth and is likely to burn up in the atmosphere, the company said on Saturday.

Astrobotic has provided regular updates on the status of the Peregrine lunar lander since the start of its tumultuous journey, which began when it launched on Jan. 8 on a brand new Vulcan rocket built by United Launch Alliance.

Shortly after separating from the rocket, the spaceship experienced an explosion on board and it soon became clear that it would not be able to make a soft lunar landing due to the amount of fuel lost. Astrobotic’s team was able to power up scientific experiments they carried for Nasa and other space agencies and collect spaceflight data.

“Our latest assessment now shows that the spacecraft is on its way to Earth, where it will likely burn up in the Earth’s atmosphere,” the Pittsburgh-based company shared on X (Twitter). “The team is currently evaluating options and we will provide information again as soon as possible.”

The box-shaped robot has now been in space for more than five days and is currently 390,000 km from our planet, Astrobotic added.

Space watchers followed Peregrine’s trajectory carefully and many hoped that it might still make a “hard landing” on the moon, like other unsuccessful landers before, but it is now clear that even that reduced goal will not be achieved.

On board Peregrine is a series of scientific instruments that will examine radiation and surface composition to pave the way for the return of astronauts to the moon.

However, it also contains a more “colorful” cargo that includes a shoebox-sized shuttle built by Carnegie Mellon University, a physical Bitcoin and the ashes of the author of Star Trek, the late Gene Roddenberry, and the legendary writer and scientist Arthur C Clarke, as well as DNA from a dog. The Vulcan also carries, among other things, the remains of other actors Star Trek who have passed away, as well as hair samples from Presidents George Washington, Dwight D Eisenhower and John F Kennedy.

Astrobotic is the latest private entity to fail with a soft landing, after an Israeli non-profit organization and a Japanese company previously tried.

Nasa paid Astrobotic more than $100 million to transport its cargo under an experimental program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services. The overarching goal is to establish a commercial lunar economy and reduce its own overhead costs.

Although it didn’t work this time, Nasa officials made it clear that their strategy of “more shots on target” means more opportunities to succeed, and the next attempt, by Houston-based Intuitive Machines, begins in February.

Astrobotic itself will get another chance in November with its Griffin lander that will transport Nasa’s Viper vehicle to the south pole of the moon.