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US spacecraft burns on Earth re-entry after fuel leakage hinders Moon landing

A US company that scrapped its Moon lander plans due to a fuel leakage issue ended with a fiery descent over open water during Earth re-entry. “This afternoon, Astrobotic received independent confirmation of Peregrine’s safe, controlled re-entry yesterday over the South Pacific,” Astrobotic said in an X post on Saturday. The firm took steps to destroy its crippled lander to protect other spacecraft.

Photo from Peregrine reveals a crescent Earth and starburst effects by strategically hiding Sun behind the spacecraft’s strut.(X/Astrobotic)

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Lander faced mishap post-rocket separation

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander was launched on January 8 through a collaboration between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and a private firm aimed at reducing costs.

However, shortly after separating from its rocket, the lander experienced an explosion, leading to fuel leakage and damage to its outer shell, making it unable to reach its intended destination.

Failed to land on Moon but ‘made a meaningful contribution’

While it did not achieve its primary goal of a lunar landing, the moon mission operated for over 10 days, and the space firm said that it “made a meaningful contribution to our lunar future.”

Astrobotic’s lander carried various experiments, including five from NASA, along with ashes and DNA from 70 space enthusiasts, including “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry. Flight controllers successfully activated some experiments and collected valuable data.

“Peregrine has flown so Griffin (firm’s next mission) may land,” the firm added.

ALSO READ: NASA administrator lauds India over successful landing on south pole of moon

Astrobotic upbeat for its next lunar mission

Astrobotic is already working on a larger lunar lander set to transport NASA’s Viper rover to the lunar South Pole in November.

The Viper rover will be transported to the moon aboard Astrobotic’s Griffin lander, which is approximately three times the size of the previous Peregrine lander.

Under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme, NASA has allocated around $100 million to Astrobotic for transporting its scientific instruments to the Moon.

Race to moon

The next lunar landing attempt will be made by Texas-based Intuitive Machines, scheduled for launch in February. If successful, the company will become the first to achieve a controlled touchdown on the moon and the first American soft landing since the end of the Apollo era over fifty years ago.

ALSO READ: Japanese spacecraft lands on moon, but solar cell not generating power: JAXA

While a lunar lander from Japan recently touched down on the moon, it faced challenges generating essential solar power. To date, the US, Russia, China, and India have successfully landed spacecraft on the moon.

(With inputs from agencies)

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