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The Nasa Peregrine 1 moon lander is experiencing a severe depletion of its propellant.
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The Nasa Peregrine 1 moon lander is experiencing a severe depletion of its propellant.

A privately-funded space mission launched on Monday is facing potential problems due to a significant loss of propellant. The operators are currently exploring alternative plans for the mission.

On Monday, during lift-off, the Peregrine Mission One (PM1) encountered an unexpected issue that would have hindered the lander from properly facing the sun. This was reported by Astrobotic, the US company leading the project, as the mission carries a technology created by British scientists.

After resolving the issue, the company determined that it was due to a malfunction in the propulsion system. Upon further examination, it was discovered that the craft was experiencing a loss of propellant.

In two separate statements, the company reported that they have successfully regained communication with Peregrine following a known blackout. The team’s improvised maneuver was effective in redirecting Peregrine’s solar array towards the sun, and the battery is currently being charged.

The Anomaly Evaluation Committee is still analyzing the information we are receiving and determining the condition of what we believe to be the cause of the anomaly: a malfunction in the propulsion system.

“Regrettably, it seems that a malfunction in the propulsion system is leading to a significant depletion of propellant. Our team is actively working to address and stabilize this issue, but in light of the circumstances, we are placing emphasis on maximizing the scientific data we can obtain. Currently, we are evaluating potential alternative mission plans that could be viable under these conditions.”

The spacecraft containing scientific instruments from Nasa was successfully launched aboard the Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral.

The Peregrine lunar lander during construction.

This event signifies the initial launch of a new, formidable rocket created by the joint efforts of Boeing and Lockheed through United Launch Alliance. It is also an effort to achieve the first successful landing on the moon by a US spacecraft in half a century.

The Peregrine spacecraft took off at 7:18 GMT with the goal of being the first privately-owned spacecraft to land on the moon, a challenge that has been difficult to achieve in recent times.

Shortly after detaching from the rocket, the lander sent a signal to Astrobotic mission control. The lander will then enter a curved orbit to align itself towards its intended target.

On February 23, Peregrine will arrive and start collecting information about the moon’s surface in preparation for future manned missions.

This marks the inaugural flight as part of Nasa’s commercial lunar payload services (CLPS) program, in which private companies are contracted to transport scientific equipment to the moon on behalf of the space agency.

The Peregrine spacecraft is equipped with five payloads from Nasa and 15 from other sources. These instruments are designed to collect data on radiation levels, water ice on the surface and subsurface, the magnetic field, and the exosphere, a thin layer of gas surrounding the moon. The information gathered will be utilized to reduce potential hazards and utilize the moon’s resources when humans revisit its surface.

Additionally included are the initial scientific tools from Latin America that will strive to land on the moon’s surface. It is anticipated that five compact moon vehicles, each with a mass of under 60g and a diameter of 12cm, will be released. Carnegie Mellon University has also contributed a rover for this mission.

The lander also has non-scientific items on board, such as a physical coin with one bitcoin and a “lunar dream capsule” from Japan filled with 185,872 messages from children worldwide.

The rocket launch was a crucial first for United Launch Alliance. Vulcan has spent roughly a decade in development to replace ULA’s workhorse Atlas V rocket and to rival the reusable Falcon 9 from Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the satellite launch market.

After the lunar lander payload was successfully deployed, Tory Bruno, the CEO of ULA, expressed his excitement, stating “I am incredibly thrilled and proud of this team. This has been years of dedicated effort.”

“This mission has been incredibly amazing thus far. We are returning to the moon and our team has performed exceptionally well. It’s difficult to put into words.”

According to him, their team was the sole provider in the market capable of meeting the requirements of the US. The flight on Monday was one of two test launches required for the rocket system to be authorized for transporting national security payloads for the US space force.

In addition to the lunar lander, the mission is transporting a commemorative payload into outer space that holds the remains and DNA of individuals connected to the Star Trek TV series, such as James Doohan, DeForest Kelley, and Nichelle Nichols.

Source: theguardian.com