A private US lunar lander that has been leaking fuel throughout its journey is now headed toward Earth and will likely burn up in the atmosphere, the company said on Saturday.
Astrobotic has been publishing regular updates on the status of the Peregrine lander since the start of its ill-fated journey, which began when it lifted off on a brand-new Vulcan rocket built by United Launch Alliance on January 8.
Shortly after separating from the rocket, the spaceship experienced an on-board explosion and it quickly became clear that it would not make a soft landing on the Moon's surface due to the amount of propellant it was losing – although the Astrobotic team was able to boost the science experiments they were conducting For NASA and other space agencies, they collect spaceflight data.
“Our latest assessment now shows that the spacecraft is on its way toward Earth, where it will likely burn up in Earth's atmosphere,” the Pittsburgh-based company said. Published on X.
“The team is currently evaluating options and we will update as soon as we are able.”
Astrobotic added that the box-shaped robot has now been in space for more than five days and is currently 242,000 miles (390,000 kilometers) from our planet.
Space observers were closely following Peregrine's path, and many hoped that it would make a “hard landing” on the moon's surface, as other failed landers had done before — although it is now clear that even this reduced goal will not be achieved.
In addition to scientific instruments, the spaceship carries merchandise for private clients of Astrobotic, including a can of a sports drink, physical bitcoin, as well as human and animal ashes and DNA.
Astrobotic is the latest private entity to fail a soft landing, following an Israeli non-profit and a Japanese company.
NASA paid Astrobotic more than $100 million to transport its payload, under a pilot program called Commercial Lunar Payload Services. The overall goal is to sow the seeds of a commercial lunar economy and reduce its overhead.
Although it didn't work out this time, NASA officials explained that their strategy of “more shots on goal” means more scoring chances, and the next attempt, by Houston-based Intuitive Machines, will launch in February.
Astrobotic itself will get another shot in November with the Griffin lander taking NASA's VIPER rover to the lunar south pole.
© Agence France-Presse
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