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Peregrine spacecraft experiences ‘anomaly’ that could threaten moon landing

This follows a successful launch by the Vulcan Centaur rocket.


The Peregrine spacecraft has experienced an ‘anomaly’ that could endanger its planned moon landing, as reported by the BBC. Astrobotic, the private company behind the project, says this anomaly prevents the spacecraft from pointing its solar panels at the sun. In other words, the vehicle can’t charge its battery. Without power, the planned lunar landing for February might have to be canceled.

Astrobotic engineers are working the problem and will provide updates as they become available. The launch itself went off without a hitch early this morning, as the issue popped up during post-launch checks after communications had been established. The team behind the launch suggest the most likely cause of the anomaly is a problem with propulsion. Unfortunately, the engineers have a limited window of time to troubleshoot and fix the issue, as the spacecraft’s battery is currently “reaching operationally low levels.” There was a short comms breakdown, but it looks like that issue has been resolved.

The company has also stated that the propulsion issue led to a "critical loss of propellant." Astrobotic has planned for a wide variety of fault scenarios and could get everything squared away before too long, but it's looking less likely by the minute. The company says it's still trying to stabilize the propellant loss, but is investigating "alternative mission profiles" and trying to save as much science and data as it can.

Peregrine is supposed to be the first American lunar lander to visit the moon in over 50 years. The United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket carried the craft out of the atmosphere. If it manages to touch down on the moon, Peregrine will become the first commercial craft to land on any planetary body outside of Earth.

Though not directly affiliated with NASA, the Peregrine launch is part of the space agency’s new Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. To that end, it’s supposed to deliver five payloads to the moon for NASA to help prepare for the upcoming Artemis missions. It’s also carrying a number of payloads for commercial clients at a cost of $1.2 million per kilogram. This cargo includes everything from mini rovers and science instruments to art collections and physical representations of cryptocurrency.

There’s also human remains on board, including the DNA of science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke. Peregrine is scheduled to land on the moon’s nearside, which faces Earth, on February 23, though that timeframe could change or disappear altogether. Ahead of the launch, CLPS Program Manager Chris Culbert acknowledged that a lunar landing was not guaranteed, stating that “landing on the moon is extremely difficult.”