Astrobotic’s ambitious Peregrine lunar lander faced an unexpected propulsion anomaly during its debut mission, resulting in a premature end to its journey. Launched on January 8 aboard United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, the Peregrine lander encountered a valve issue that led to a propellant leak, preventing it from reaching the moon. Despite this setback, Astrobotic remains optimistic, highlighting the successes and lessons learned during the mission.
Astrobotic CEO John Thornton expressed pride in the functionality of various aspects of the Peregrine lander, emphasizing the successful performance of avionics, software, systems architectures, and other components. The anomaly stemmed from a valve failure, causing helium to enter the oxidizer tank and leading to a rupture.
In a media teleconference, Thornton described the emotional rollercoaster experienced by mission control as they grappled with the unexpected turn of events. Notably, the team demonstrated ingenuity by improvising maneuvers to orient the spacecraft’s solar panels towards the sun and capturing an image of Earth, despite the propulsion challenges.
A critical decision was made to guide Peregrine on a trajectory for a controlled reentry over the Pacific Ocean. Thornton explained the rationale behind this choice, citing potential risks and the difficulty of predicting the spacecraft’s path if it continued its course.
While some payloads, including lunar rovers and memorial payloads with human remains, were unable to fulfill their intended purposes, certain instruments succeeded in collecting valuable data. A radiation detector from the German Aerospace Center gathered 92 hours of data related to cislunar space, and NASA-built instruments measured radiation using the Neutron Spectrometer System (NSS) and Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer (LETS).
Peregrine’s mission marked the first under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS), aimed at accelerating lunar science through collaborations with private companies like Astrobotic. Despite the setback, Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, expressed the agency’s commitment to CLPS, emphasizing the importance of embracing a risk posture to foster innovation.
Looking ahead, the next CLPS mission is on the horizon, featuring the Nova-C lander by Intuitive Machines, scheduled for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in mid-February. The incident with Peregrine serves as a reminder that failure is often part of the journey to success, and the space exploration community remains resilient in its pursuit of lunar exploration.