Private US lunar lander loses ‘critical loss’ fuel

Following a “critical loss” of fuel, the spacecraft’s mission to land the first commercial craft on the moon appears to be in peril. This is a significant setback for the United States, which had hoped to place its first robot on the lunar surface in fifty years.

Monday at 2:18 a.m. (07:18 GMT), Vulcan, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket carrying the autonomous lunar lander Peregrine and constructed by space robotics company Astrobotic Technology, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A few hours later, Astrobotic commenced documenting technical malfunctions, commencing with Peregrine’s propulsion system malfunctioning, which prevented it from orienting its top-mounted solar panel towards the sun and maintaining a fully charged onboard battery.

An “improvised manoeuvre” enabled engineers to tilt the spacecraft in the desired direction; however, the organisation subsequently reported that a “critical loss of propellant” appeared to be the result of a malfunction in the propulsion system.

“In light of the circumstances, we have prioritised maximising the science and data we can collect over stabilising this loss,” Astrobotic wrote on X, formerly Twitter. “The team is working to stabilise this loss.”

“At this time, we are evaluating which alternative mission profiles may be feasible,” the statement continued.

Race in commercial space

The mission is an integral component of an increasingly competitive private space race, and should it succeed in reaching the moon, it will mark the inaugural lunar landing conducted by a private corporation. Additionally, it would mark the initial American lunar touchdown after over fifty years have passed, ever since the concluding Apollo landing in 1972.

The lunar landing of Peregrine was scheduled for February 23. It is a component of a mission to collect information regarding the lunar surface in preparation for future human missions.

Additionally, the inaugural expedition to the lunar surface under NASA’s Artemis lunar programme commences with this launch.

The launch was critical for ULA, which developed Vulcan to compete with Elon Musk’s SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 in the satellite launch market and supplant its Atlas V rocket.

By accomplishing this, Astrobotic hopes to become the first private enterprise to land on the moon. Only four nations—The United States, the Soviet Union, China, and India—have accomplished this.

Private enterprises aiming to establish a lunar marketplace have encountered greater difficulty, as evidenced by the initial failures of iSpace from Japan and an Israeli company.

Nonetheless, private space operators continue to vie for the upper hand. Intuitive Machines, an American company, likewise possesses operational spacecraft and aspires to reach the moon before Astrobotic by utilising a more direct trajectory.

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