A private US lunar lander is set to meet a fiery demise as it plunges uncontrolled into Earth’s atmosphere this week after missing the moon.
Background of Ambitious Moon Mission
The Peregrine lunar lander, developed by Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic Technology, launched in November 2023 on what was meant to be the first private moon landing mission.
Funded partly by NASA, the ambitious $93.3 million mission was carrying scientific instruments and technology demonstrations as well as human ashes and DNA samples.
The lander successfully made it to lunar orbit distance on January 13. However, shortly afterwards its engines failed during a burn to take it into orbit around the moon.
With no way to steer or control its trajectory, Peregrine is now on course to slam into Earth’s atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean on January 18.
Lander Carrying Symbolic Payloads
Among Peregrine’s unique cargo were a portion of “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry’s remains, a vial of author Arthur C. Clarke’s DNA, and a small amount of ashes of actor James Doohan, who played Scotty on Star Trek.
It was also carrying two payloads from Celestis Inc. – a company that specializes in memorial spaceflights. One payload contains human remains of former NASA research scientist Mareta West and space enthusiast Timothy Hammond. The other holds DNA samples from dozens of individuals.
|Arch Mission Foundation’s Lunar Library
|30-million page archive containing a “backup of planet Earth”
|Regolith Moon printing tech demo
|Experiment to test 3D printing using lunar regolith
|Microrover designed to explore lunar craters
|Small rover for lunar surface scouting
|Lunar plant growth experiment
|Self-contained growth chamber to test plant cultivation
While the mission cargo and ambitions were grand, they will now be lost in Peregrine’s imminent destruction.
Failed Burns Doomed Lander’s Trajectory
Two crucial engine burns were planned to put Peregrine into a stable lunar orbit on January 13. However, the first burn failed partway through, leaving the spacecraft tumbling with no means of stabilizing itself or correcting its course.
A second planned burn a few hours later also failed, cementing Peregrine’s fate. With no way to control itself and lacking enough fuel to return home, the lander is now caught in Earth’s gravitational pull on an uncontrolled descent.
Fiery Demise Above South Pacific
Peregrine only has enough battery power to survive until January 18. Current projections based on its trajectory show it will slam into Earth’s atmosphere at over 9,000 mph above the South Pacific Ocean on that date.
The lander will likely break apart and burn up high in the atmosphere. However, some debris may survive to fall into the ocean across a debris field estimated to stretch over 3,700 miles wide.
While risky for any potential aircraft or ships below, scientists say it poses minimal risk to human safety given most of it will incinerate and the South Pacific is sparsely populated.
Mission Failure Despite Ambition
Astrobotic CEO John Thornton expressed disappointment over the mission’s failure. However, he asserted that Peregrine’s ambitious attempt still represented meaningful progress.
The mission aimed to be the first American lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972. Had it succeeded, Astrobotic stood to claim a $250 million prize in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition.
While the loss deals a blow to Astrobotic’s lunar plans, the company says it remains committed to launching more affordable commercial delivery services to the moon.
With NASA also expanding lunar exploration under its Artemis program, many still see strong potential in public-private moon mission partnerships despite this setback.
What Comes Next
While Peregrine’s imminent destruction marks a failed moonshot, engineers will be able to examine its flight data for lessons learned. This could aid Astrobotic and other companies in preventing issues on future lunar voyages.
Astrobotic already has more Peregrine landers in development. Its next planned mission – Peregrine 02 – could come as early as 2025 if funding allows.
The loss of Peregrine’s symbolic passenger payload comes as a blow to space memorial companies like Celestis. However, some family members of those memorialized expressed pride that their loved ones were part of such an ambitious attempt.
To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.