Peregrine Mission One blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida as planned on Monday morning. But roughly seven hours into the mission, it was hit with a run of technical problems that ave left the mission seemingly doomed.
Astrobotic, the company behind the launch, said the spacecraft had failed to point properly towards the sun. That meant that its batteries were not charging and the mission looked in peril.
Engineers managed to improvise a series of commands that were sent towards the spacecraft and it eventually pointed its solar panels towards the sun as it should. Astrobotic said the batteries were successfully charging.
However, it later said a propulsion system failure meant that the spacecraft was undergoing a “critical loss of propellant”. While its engineers were “working to try and stabilise this loss”, Astrobotic suggested that the mission had probably failed.
“Given the situation, we have prioritised maximising the science and data we can capture,” the company said. “We are currently assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time.”
Peregrine Mission One is carrying a host of science projects and instruments, developed by scientists from around the world. They had aimed to better understand the moon, including the availability of resources that could be key for a plan to launch a base on the surface as part of Nasa’s Artemis missions.
Nasa hopes to send humans back to the lunar surface next year. Eventually, it hopes to build a base there, with a view to launching journeys on to Mars.
The Peregrine mission was also carrying other cargo, including human remains and the DNA of former presidents including John F Kennedy. That had led to some criticism from the Navajo Nation, which had criticised the plan to drop those remains onto the lunar surface.
If it had been successful, Peregrine Mission One would have been the first commercial American spacecraft to achieve a soft landing on the moon in history, and the first US spacecraft on the lunar surface since the Apollo missions around 50 years ago. Only four countries have ever accomplished the feat.