For 16 years, Astrobotic has been dedicated to making the Moon accessible to the world. The responsible preservation of the cislunar space environment for all is top of mind as we complete this mission. Since the Peregrine lunar lander’s anomaly occurred 6 days ago, we have been evaluating how best to safely end the spacecraft’s mission to protect satellites in Earth orbit as well as ensure we do not create debris in cislunar space.
Working with NASA, we received inputs from the space community and the U.S. Government on the most safe and responsible course of action to end Peregrine’s mission. The recommendation we have received is to let the spacecraft burn up during re-entry in Earth’s atmosphere. Since this is a commercial mission, the final decision of Peregrine’s final flight path is in our hands. Ultimately, we must balance our own desire to extend Peregrine’s life, operate payloads, and learn more about the spacecraft, with the risk that our damaged spacecraft could cause a problem in cislunar space. As such, we have made the difficult decision to maintain the current spacecraft’s trajectory to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. By responsibly ending Peregrine’s mission, we are doing our part to preserve the future of cislunar space for all.
Despite the propulsion system issue, the Astrobotic Mission Team has worked tirelessly to stabilize the vehicle, turn on all active payloads, and enable the collection of payload data. The spacecraft has been operating in space for 6 days and 16 hours, and Peregrine continues to leak propellant, but now at a very slow rate. Yesterday afternoon, we test fired one of the main engines for the first time. We achieved a 200 millisecond burn and acquired data that indicated Peregrine could have main engine propulsive capability. However, due to the anomaly, the fuel to oxidizer ratio is well outside of the normal operating range of the main engines making long controlled burns impossible. The team projects that the spacecraft has enough remaining propellant to maintain sun pointing and perform small maneuvers.
Astrobotic designed and built hardware, avionics, software, and system architectures that have all performed as expected in space. All payloads designed to power on and communicate did so, and even achieved science objectives. While we believe it is possible for the spacecraft to operate for several more weeks and could potentially have raised the orbit to miss the Earth, we must take into consideration the anomalous state of the propulsion system and utilize the vehicle’s onboard capability to end the mission responsibly and safely.
Peregrine will soon return to Earth’s atmosphere and the vehicle is now about 234,000 miles away. We are working with NASA to continue updating and evaluating the controlled re-entry path of Peregrine. We do not believe Peregrine’s re-entry poses safety risks, and the spacecraft will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. We are validating this through analyses in collaboration with the U.S. Government. We will continue to operate the spacecraft and provide status updates through the end of the mission.
“I am so proud of what our team has accomplished with this mission. It is a great honor to witness firsthand the heroic efforts of our mission control team overcoming enormous challenges to recover and operate the spacecraft after Monday’s propulsion anomaly. I look forward to sharing these, and more remarkable stories, after the mission concludes on January 18. This mission has already taught us so much and has given me great confidence that our next mission to the Moon will achieve a soft landing,” said Astrobotic CEO, John Thornton.