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What occurred with the Peregrine lander and what impact does it have on moon missions?
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What occurred with the Peregrine lander and what impact does it have on moon missions?

What does the Peregrine lander refer to and what was its intended function?

The Peregrine lunar lander is a robotic space vehicle created by the American company Astrobotic for lunar logistics. It is launched into space via a rocket and has the capability to transport payloads to either the moon’s surface or its orbit.

On Monday, January 8th, the initial task of the mission, Peregrine Mission One, was to transport scientific tools to the Gruithuisen Domes area of the moon. These tools are created to collect data that may reduce hazards and establish a foundation for Nasa’s Artemis program, which aims to establish a long-term human presence on the moon.

Additionally, the lander carries various instruments and machinery from the space agencies of Mexico and Germany, as well as contributions from universities, companies, and individuals in the UK and other countries. These contributions range from a physical coin with one bitcoin to a Japanese “lunar dream capsule” containing 185,872 messages from children worldwide.

What went wrong?

The Peregrine spacecraft successfully launched from the Cape Canaveral space station in Florida at 2:18am ET (7:18am GMT) on Monday. It was carried by a Vulcan Centaur rocket, which uses methane as fuel. About 50 minutes after liftoff, the lander detached from the rocket and continued traveling at an altitude of 500km (311 miles) above the Earth.

The initial indication of difficulty arose approximately 7 hours after liftoff, when the spacecraft was incapable of adjusting its solar panels towards the sun to obtain a charge for its batteries. The team of engineers on the ground eventually succeeded in rotating the panels, but additional issues arose thereafter.

Initially, Astrobotic stated that a malfunction in the propulsion system was the source of the issue. They also mentioned that this malfunction was resulting in a significant loss of propellant. In light of this situation, the company has prioritized capturing as much scientific data as possible. Shortly after, Astrobotic released the first photo of the Peregrine lander in space, revealing that the outer insulation layers were crumpled.

The company declared on Monday night that a fuel leak was affecting the thrusters of Peregrine’s attitude control system. This system is responsible for accurately positioning the lander, but it is now being used for a longer period of time than expected in order to prevent the lander from spinning out of control. According to the company, the thrusters are estimated to have approximately 40 hours of functioning left based on current fuel usage.

What is the fate of the spacecraft at this point?

On February 23, Peregrine was planned to touch down on the moon. However, even if it successfully reached its destination, the 1.2-metric tonne spacecraft would still have to adjust its engine to fire in controlled intervals during its descent.

Rephrasing: It seems increasingly improbable that this goal will be achieved. In a statement shared on the social media site X at 9:16pm ET on Monday, Astrobotic announced, “Our current focus is getting Peregrine as close to the moon’s distance as possible before it can no longer maintain its position facing the sun and loses power.”

If the mission is aborted, Peregrine will transform into a floating object among the debris in space. It will also serve as a floating tomb, as it contains capsules of DNA samples or ashes from past US presidents, author Arthur C Clarke, and other individuals whose loved ones have paid to have their remains placed on the moon.

Is there anything that can be saved?

Dr. Minkwan Kim from the University of Southampton stated that although the spacecraft may not be able to land on the moon due to restrictions with propulsion and power systems, its strong scientific instruments and fully charged battery still offer opportunities for important alternative objectives. All of the onboard systems, except for propulsion, can undergo rigorous testing in the harsh conditions of space, including extreme temperatures and intense radiation. This testing in a real environment would give valuable insights into the resilience and readiness of the system for potential future lunar missions.

What implications does this have for future joint missions?

It is possible that Peregrine Mission One could be the third unsuccessful endeavor of a private company to successfully land on the moon, following the failures of the Beresheet lander in 2019 and the Hakuto-R lander in 2023. However, there are numerous other attempts in the works.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has several planned missions to the moon using private spacecraft, spanning from now until 2026. They have stressed the fact that each mission carries a significant amount of risk, but also has the potential for great rewards. NASA believes that partnerships between private and public entities can lead to new opportunities for innovation, often at a quicker pace than if traditional space agencies were working alone.

“While Peregrine’s lunar landing may not have come to pass, it’s crucial to avoid labelling it a complete failure,” said Kim. “Peregrine’s unique design and technology pushed the boundaries of what’s possible in lunar lander development, and the collaborations developed can be instrumental in driving down costs, paving the way for more frequent and sustainable lunar missions.

Each obstacle provides a chance for us to gain knowledge and improve our strategy, increasing the chances of success in our next attempt.

Source: theguardian.com