Astrobotic’s Peregrine moon lander, en route to the moon, has captured a poignant selfie showcasing Earth in the background. The image, shared by Astrobotic on X (formerly Twitter), reveals one of Peregrine’s legs and the Pocari Sweet Lunar Dream Time Capsule. Despite a successful liftoff on the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, the mission faced challenges as the lander started leaking propellant shortly after deployment.
The photo not only highlights the technical glitch but also showcases the Pocari capsule, a payload featuring messages from children worldwide. The image sparked curiosity about a faint sliver in the upper right corner, later confirmed to be Earth, adding a touch of irony to the troubled mission.
The suspected cause of the propellant leak is a stuck valve, leading to a ruptured oxidizer tank. Unfortunately, this malfunction has dashed hopes of a historic private spacecraft moon landing, originally scheduled for February 23. Peregrine is currently approximately 192,000 miles from Earth, about 80% of the way to the moon, following a trajectory that includes a “phasing loop” around Earth.
Despite the setback, Astrobotic’s update on X assures that Peregrine continues its journey, propelled by the Vulcan Centaur’s momentum. The trajectory involves a loop around Earth before heading out to meet the moon, with an estimated arrival in about 15 days post-launch.
Peregrine is equipped with 35 hours’ worth of fuel and carries 20 payloads for various customers, including NASA. The latter contributed five science instruments through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Notably, Peregrine’s mission marked the initiation of the CLPS efforts, with a second mission scheduled for the next month, involving a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launching Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander toward the moon.
Despite the mission’s challenges, Peregrine’s journey contributes valuable data to space exploration and sets the stage for future lunar endeavors. The incident underscores the complexities and uncertainties inherent in pioneering missions beyond Earth’s orbit.