Yesterday, January 8 (at 7:18 am UT), Astrobotic launched its Peregrine Mission One towards the Moon, the first US mission to land on the Moon in 50 years. It is the third private company attempting to reach our natural satellite and the first one from the US. However, the spacecraft encountered issues in its first few hours in space. It is now understood that a propellant leak is responsible for the ongoing issue and whether it will be able to continue is in doubt.
In the first statement on X (formerly Twitter), Astrobotic explained the spacecraft's solar panels are no longer pointing stably at the Sun. A second statement said that the source of the anomaly is believed to be in the propulsion system. Astrobotic explains that if this is confirmed, the mission won't be able to soft-land on the Moon.
In the same message, they report that the batteries of the spacecraft are low and that they experienced a loss of communication after a maneuver was attempted to reorient the solar panels toward the Sun. This attempt was successful and the batteries were charged and it was then that it became clear that a propellant leak was taking place. The situation is still being investigated and data is being gathered, even for science purposes.
“At this time, the goal is to get Peregrine as close to lunar distance as we can before we lose the ability to maintain its sun-pointing position and subsequently loses power,” Astrobotic said in the latest statement.
Astrobotic also released the first photo from the mission. Taken by a camera mounted on top of a payload deck, it shows a disturbance in the multi-layered insulation (MLI) of the craft. “The disturbance of the MLI is the first visual clue that aligns with our telemetry data pointing to a propulsion system anomaly,” Astrobotic said.
Engineers are working to solve the situation and it is not clear what the fate of this mission will be. It was envisioned as the first American return to lunar soil in 50 years and, while a private mission, it had involvement from NASA and many other institutions. It carries 21 payloads ranging from experiments to human remains from private company Celestis. The latter has been mired in controversy as many people objected to the "burial" of people on the Moon.
There is no regulation on what can and cannot be sent to the Moon. In fact, the mission also carries some cryptocurrency-themed payloads, as well as a piece of Mount Everest. The other two commercial missions that attempted a soft landing on the Moon were from Israel and Japan and both of them crash-landed on the gray world above our heads.
This story has been updated as more information is available.