The first launch of the United Launch Alliance Vulcan-Centaur rocket attempted to send Peregrine Mission One moonward, but a propulsion problem has likely stymied that goal.
Tuesday, January 9th, 1:22 p.m. EST:
Shortly after launch, the mission experienced an anomaly that prevented the spacecraft from pointing at the Sun to charge its solar-powered batteries. While mission controllers have re-oriented the spacecraft, allowing it to recharge its batteries and reestablish communications, the team determined that the cause of the anomaly was a propulsion problem that caused a "critical loss of propellant." The team is determining what mission objectives can still be accomplished, but it's unlikely the mission will accomplish the lunar landing that was planned for next month.
Update #5 for Peregrine Mission One: pic.twitter.com/94wy2J0GyA— Astrobotic (@astrobotic) January 8, 2024
Unfortunately, the team now reports on Tuesday that due to a loss of propellant during the anomaly, the spacecraft will run out of fuel under two days time, and will no longer be able to maintain orientation to charge its batteries.
The original article appears below.
When it comes to spaceflight, 2024 is set to be all about "firsts." Today, some of those firsts came to pass. Early this morning, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) rocket roared to life over pad SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Cert-1, sending Astrobotic’s Peregrine One Mission into space.
This is the first launch of ULA’s two-stage Vulcan-Centaur rocket, and the first mission to take flight as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Liftoff occurred at 2:18 a.m. EST / 7:18 UT.
Spacecraft separation occurred 50 minutes after liftoff, and the mission is now in a looping, elliptical orbit around the Earth. Peregrine One is set to undergo a series of orbit-raising boosts towards a trans-lunar injection orbit, for capture in lunar orbit later this month.
Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander is dubbed a space cargo delivery system, capable of delivering customer payloads to the lunar surface. The mission is due to land at Mons Gruithuisen Domes in Mare Viscositatis, the small "Bay of Stickiness" near the larger Mare Imbrium.
NASA’s Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer will land near the same general site in 2026.
Peregrine Mission One is expected to last about eight days on the lunar surface. “Both space and the Moon are challenging environments,” says Audra Mitchell (Astrobotic). “Our team of engineers completed a full battery of acceptance testing on Peregrine. However, the exact conditions of the lunar surface cannot be replicated here on Earth.”
What’s Onboard Peregrine Mission One
The mission aims to put the 6-foot (2-meter) high, 584-pound (265 kilogram) lander on the lunar surface. Astrobotic will also test their new autonomous Terrain Relative Navigation radar system to guide Peregrine down to the lunar surface.
The mission has been delayed since 2021, and was originally planned for Christmas Eve 2023 before sliding back one more time to early 2024.
The payloads for the mission are plug-and-play; ultimately, a suite of small scout rovers, instruments, experiments, memorial and artifacts from six countries are aboard Peregrine Mission One. These include Carnegie Mellon University’s Iris rover, which will deploy shortly after landing, and the Mexican Space Agency’s LINX-UNAM project to put five small (60 gram) rovers on the Moon. NASA also has six science instruments onboard:
- The Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer, designed by NASA’s Ames research Center to measure volatiles in the lunar soil. A duplicate of NIRVSS will fly on NASA’s VIPER lunar rover later this year.
- The Peregrine Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer, designed to study the tenuous lunar exosphere.
- The Neutron Spectrometer System designed to search for hydrogen in the lunar environment.
- The Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer, a radiation monitor, similar to the one that flew on Artemis 1. The German space agency, DLR, also has a similar radiation detector experiment onboard.
- A Laser Retroreflector Array, similar to the ones left on the Moon by Apollo astronauts to pinpoint the precise location of the lander, and measure the distance to the Moon.
- The Navigation Doppler LIDAR instrument, built by Langley Research Center. The instrument will test using LIDAR for descent and landing.
A series of small artifacts on also onboard, provided by paying customers. These include time capsules, archival libraries, and memorials with a small amount of remains from customers, courtesy of Elysium Space and Celestis.
If successful, Astrobotics may field their larger Griffin lunar lander later this year. Next up for the CLPS program: Watch for Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander, launching on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket next month on February 10th.
“Astrobotic’s Griffin Mission One is slated to launch in late 2024, carrying NASA’s VIPER rover to the Moon’s south pole to search for water ice as part of NASA’s CLPS initiative,” says Mitchell. ‘We (Astrobotic) recently won a $34.6 million dollar NASA Tipping Point award to demonstrate power transmission on the lunar surface with LunarGrid.”
Good luck to Astrobotic and Peregrine Mission One now on its way to the Moon, for the first commercial landing next month.