Private lunar lander Peregrine mission's now measured in hours, not days

UK trumpets British tech aboard doomed spacecraft

The Peregrine Mission One lunar lander has just hours of power left before its ambitious mission will be prematurely terminated.

Having launched successfully on the first flight of the ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket, the spacecraft suffered an anomaly that appears to have significantly truncated the planned mission.

Rather than cruise to a landing in February and spend ten days on the Moon's surface doing science, it could all be over for the lander by the end of this week after a propellant leak nixed plans for reaching the Moon, let alone landing.

As it stands, the spacecraft's Attitude Control System (ACS) is working overtime to keep the solar arrays facing the Sun. Assuming these thrusters continue to operate – and Astrobotic warned that they are already well beyond their expected service life – there's a chance the spacecraft could continue in a stable sun-pointing state until the end of tomorrow.

Once the ACS stops working, the spacecraft will likely start to tumble and lose power. Astrobotic said: "At this time, the goal is to get Peregrine as close to lunar distance as we can before it loses the ability to maintain its sun-pointing position and subsequently lose power."

Peregrine was to be the first American commercial lunar lander, and NASA poured millions into the mission via the CLPS program. In case you're wondering, CLPS stands for Commercial Lunar Payload Services, not Catastrophically Leaky Propulsion System.

Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration at NASA's Science Mission Directorate, offered Astrobotic support and expressed his pride of the NASA and Astrobotic teams that have worked on the mission.

He continued: "This delivery service model is a first for the agency and with something new, there is a higher risk."

There certainly is.

The UK has laid claim to one of the instruments on board the doomed lander, noting that Exospheric Mass Spectrometer (EMS) within the Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer had been developed in the UK.

"It will be the first UK and European science component to touch down on the surface of the Moon."

Or not, as the case may be.

While copies of the four NASA payloads aboard Peregrine are expected to fly on future flights, the Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer is not currently manifested on a future CLPS flight.

Astrobotic's next CLPS mission is to deliver the VIPER rover to the lunar South Pole. Last week, NASA trumpeted that the trundlebot was half complete. The agency has yet to confirm what – if any – impact problems with Peregrine will have on VIPER's mission. ®

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