February 26, 2024

Thousands of kilometers from Earth, the doomed Peregrine mission to the moon is speaking its final words back home – and it could be an Australian deep space outpost recording its final message.

On Tuesday, Astrobotic, the American company behind the mission, revealed that there was “no chance”. that Peregrine 1 would fulfill its goal of being the first commercial spacecraft to make a soft landing on the moon. A critical fuel leak after Monday’s takeoff meant that the propellant would run out long before the planned February 23 attack in Stickiness Bay.

The spacecraft has enough fuel to continue maneuvering until some time Friday, and its batteries are fully charged.

The company said his new goal is to get Peregrine “as close to lunar distance as we can before it loses the ability to maintain its sun-facing position and subsequently loses power”.

The updated mission was to collect data from Peregrine 1 that could be useful for a future lunar landing trip, Astrobotic said.

Until its demise, it will continue to communicate with Earth via Nasa’s Deep Space Network: three satellite dishes based in California, Madrid and Canberra.

The Canberra Deep Space The communications complex in the Tidbinbilla Valley plays an “absolutely vital” role in the renewed US push to the moon and beyond, said Fred Watson, Australia’s astronomer-general, from the Commonwealth Department of Industry, Science and Resources.

Situated between cattle and sheep properties and surrounded by wandering Australian wildlife including kangaroos, koalas, emus, wallabies and birds, the NASA-funded space shuttles are the missing link that ensures complete coverage of their missions, Watson said.

Nasa would otherwise be “out of touch for eight hours a day”.

“The idea of ​​having three is that as the Earth rotates, there is always an antenna pointing to a specific space. And so there’s 24/7 coverage by having three deep space network stations,” Watson said.

“So Australia plays a role in many Nasa missions.”

It also means that Australia continues its traditional association with lunar missions: the Australian Parkes Radio Telescope (located 300 km north of Tidbinbilla) had the only dish in the world to broadcast the 1969 Apollo 11 moonwalk, a link popular in the hit 2000 Australian film The Dish.

Watson said despite Peregrine’s failure, Canberra would soon be eyeing more lunar missions.

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex will be relied upon to track another new rocket called Vulcan launched by the United Launch Alliance and the SpaceX Falcon 9.

And the Australian Space Agency is part of the Artemis Agreementsthe effort to return humans to the moon by 2025.

As lunar exploration develops in the private sector, Australia will continue to play a significant role in taking missions to space, Watson said.

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