A fuel leak forced Astrobotic Technology to cancel the first attempt at a lunar mission in more than 50 years
US efforts to return to the moon have been delayed for the first time in more than five decades, with a private aerospace company canceling its planned lunar landing and NASA postponing a manned mission for at least a full year.
Astrobotic Technology announced Tuesday that its unmanned Peregrine spacecraft will not be able to make a soft landing on the lunar surface due to a fuel leak. A stuck valve may have caused the tank to rupture a few hours after the lander was launched on Monday. Astrobotic said the vehicle is still capable of collecting valuable data, but is expected to run out of propellant by Thursday.
The company's lunar landing was scheduled for February 23, the first landing in history by a private company and the first American landing since 1972. Intuitive Machines, a Houston company, plans to launch a separate lunar lander mission this month. Next.
Astrobotic's decision came on the same day that NASA postponed its planned lunar missions by one year each. The Artemis 2 mission, which aims to send four astronauts around the moon in NASA's next-generation capsule, has been postponed to September 2025. The Artemis 3 project has been rescheduled to land astronauts near the moon's south pole in September 2026 at the earliest.
NASA said it needs more time to modify and test new technology on its Orion spacecraft, including a life support system and heat shield, for crewed flights. Elon Musk's SpaceX has been awarded a contract to provide NASA's new lander that will be used in Artemis III.
“We're returning to the Moon in a way we've never been before, and the safety of our astronauts is NASA's top priority as we prepare for future Artemis missions.” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. He added that early testing of the equipment revealed problems that would require more time to resolve.
The Astrobotic spacecraft carried 20 payloads for commercial and government customers, including NASA, which it planned to deliver to the moon. The company developed Peregrine under a $108 million contract with NASA, which saw the mission as a way to put a relatively cheap robotic lander on the moon. The vehicle was reportedly carrying scientific instruments and a navigation sensor for NASA.
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