The first lunar lander to launch from the US in half a century will not make it to the lunar surface due to a fuel leak, its operators announced, adding that their goal now was to travel as far as possible before running out of power.
Peregrine 1, which is also the first commercial spacecraft to attempt a soft landing on the moon, suffered a “critical loss of propellant” hours after liftoff on Monday due to an “anomaly” in the propulsion system, according to Astrobotic, the US company behind the project.
After initially fearing that the spacecraft would not be able to orient itself towards the sun to charge its batteries, the team at Astrobotic announced that he had successfully completed an “improvised maneuver”. and the solar array worked.
However, in a later statement, the Pittsburgh-based company said its thrusters “probably can only work for 40 more hours,” adding: “At this point, the goal is to get Peregrine as close to lunar distance as we can before . it loses the ability to maintain its sunward position and subsequently loses power.”
The lander, which carries Nasa scientific equipment, launched on the Vulcan Centaur rocket from Cape Canaveral, marking the first use of the powerful new rocket built by United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed venture.
Peregrine was scheduled to land on the moon on February 23, when it would have begun collecting data about the lunar surface to aid research for planned future human missions.
Instruments on board include those that can measure radiation levels, surface and subsurface water ice, the magnetic field and the extremely thin layer of gas called the exosphere. Also on board are five small lunar rovers that each weigh less than 60 g and are 12 cm in diameter.
The lander also contains non-scientific payloads, including DNA from former US presidents including George Washington, John F Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower, who may now remain in space. The ashes of Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, as well as those of former stars of the TV series, are also on board.
With a successful landing now considered impossible, the probe will conduct experiments in space before its batteries die.
Nasa responded to reports of the lander’s failure said it worked with Astrobotic to identify the cause of the propulsion problem, adding, “Space is hard.”