Astrobotic said the likely cause of the malfunction was a propulsion failure, adding that more updates will be released as more data is obtained and analyzed.
The Peregrine mission represents a new chapter for the commercial space industry, launching private companies into a space race to make deliveries for NASA and other customers.
The Pittsburgh-based company aspired to be the first private company to land successfully on the lunar surface, something that only four countries have achieved. A Houston-based company also has a lander ready to fly and is expected to take a more direct path to the Moon.
NASA gave the two companies millions to build and fly their own lunar landers. The space agency wants privately owned landers to explore the site before astronauts arrive, while also conducting NASA science and technology experiments as well as details for other clients. Astrobotic contract for the Peregrine lander: $108 million.
For the maiden flight, the Peregrine lander carried five NASA instruments. In response to the technical anomaly, NASA said it would learn from the situation.
“Every success and setback is an opportunity to learn and grow,” Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement Monday. “We will use this lesson to fuel our efforts to advance Moon science, exploration and commercial development.”
The last time the United States launched a lunar landing mission was in December 1972. Gene Cernan of Apollo 17, the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface, as mission commander, and Harrison Schmitt, the twelfth astronaut in walk on the moon , closed an era that remains the pinnacle of NASA.
The space agency’s new Artemis program, named after Apollo’s twin sister in Greek mythology, seeks to return astronauts to the surface of the moon in the coming years. First it will be a Lunar flight with four astronautspossibly before the end of the year.
The highlight of Monday’s trip to the moon was the long-delayed initial test flight of the Vulcan rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The 61-meter (202-foot) rocket is essentially an upgraded version of ULA’s successful Atlas V workhorse, which is being phased out along with the company’s Delta IV. Jeff Bezos’ rocket company, Blue Origin, provided the Vulcan’s two main engines.
The then-Soviet Union and the United States racked up a series of successful moon landings in the 1960s and 1970s before suspending the landings. China joined the elite club in 2013 and India in 2023. But last year we also saw Russian landers and a private japanese company crash into the moon. An Israeli nonprofit organization’s lander crashed in 2019.
Next month, SpaceX will provide the elevator for an Intuitive Machines lander.
In addition to flight experiments for NASA, Astrobotic created its own cargo-hauling business, packing the 1.9-meter-tall Peregrine lander with everything from a rock fragment from Mount Everest to cars the size of a toy from Mexico that will catapult to the lunar surface and sail around, to the ashes and DNA of deceased space enthusiasts, including “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke.
The Navajo Nation recently attempted to delay the launch due to human remains. saying it would be a “profound desecration” of a celestial body revered by Native Americans. Thornton said the December objections came too late, but he promised to try to find “a good path forward” with the Navajos for future missions.
One of the spaceflight commemorative companies that bought space on the lander, Celestis, said in a statement that no culture or religion owns the moon and should not be able to veto a mission. There is more debris in the upper stage of the rocket, which, once freed from the lander, will circle the Sun indefinitely until it reaches Mars.
Peregrine’s upload rates ranged from a few hundred dollars to $1.2 million per kilogram (2.2 pounds), not enough for Astrobotic to break even. But for this first flight, that’s not the point, according to Astrobotic CEO John Thornton.
“The dreams and hopes of many people depend on this,” he said.