Private Company’s Moon Landing in Jeopardy: Critical Fuel Leak Threatens Historic Mission


Private company’s moon landing attempt jeopardized by fuel leak

In an unfortunate turn of events, a private company’s attempt at a moon landing after more than 50 years has been hindered by a critical fuel leak. Astrobotic Technology, based in Pittsburgh, experienced a failure in the propulsion system just hours after the spacecraft’s launch on Monday.

Despite this setback, the company managed to position its lander towards the sun to collect sunlight and charge its battery. A team was assembled to assess the situation while the spacecraft orbited the Earth. However, it became clear that there was a critical loss of fuel, casting doubt on the planned moon landing scheduled for February 23.

Astrobotic Technology released a statement acknowledging the issue and stating that they are currently exploring alternative mission profiles. The problem was reported approximately seven hours after the liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, where United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket provided the necessary boost for Astrobotic’s lander, named Peregrine.

The propulsion system problem poses a significant threat to the spacecraft’s ability to safely land on the moon. The lander is equipped with engines and thrusters for maneuvering during both the journey to the moon and the lunar descent.

Moon landings have historically been a mix of successes and failures. The Soviet Union and the United States achieved several successful moon landings in the 1960s and 70s before pausing their efforts. China joined this exclusive club in 2013, followed by India in 2023. However, recent years have seen unsuccessful landings from Russia, a private Japanese company, and an Israeli nonprofit.

Next month, SpaceX will attempt to lift off with a lander from Intuitive Machines. The Nova-C lander will take a more direct route to the moon, potentially leading to simultaneous landing attempts by both spacecraft.

Astrobotic Technology not only conducts experiments for NASA but also operates its own freight business. The Peregrine lander, standing at 6 feet tall, carries various payloads, including a chip of rock from Mount Everest and toy-size cars from Mexico that will roam the lunar surface. Additionally, the lander holds the ashes and DNA of deceased space enthusiasts, such as “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry and science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke.

However, the Navajo Nation expressed concerns about the launch, particularly regarding the presence of human remains. They argued that it would be a desecration of a celestial body held sacred by Native Americans. Astrobotic’s CEO, John Thornton, stated that the objections came too late but expressed a willingness to find a way forward with the Navajo for future missions.

Celestis, one of the companies that purchased space on the lander for memorial purposes, emphasized that the moon belongs to no single culture or religion and should not have the power to veto a mission. Additional remains are on the rocket’s upper stage, which will orbit the sun and reach as far as Mars.

Despite the financial challenges faced by Astrobotic Technology, including cargo fares ranging from a few hundred dollars to .2 million per kilogram, the company’s CEO, John Thornton, emphasized that this first flight is about fulfilling people’s dreams and hopes.

The future of Astrobotic’s moon landing attempt remains uncertain, but the company’s determination to overcome setbacks and continue pushing the boundaries of space exploration is evident. As we wait for further updates, we can only hope that future missions will bring us one step closer to unraveling the mysteries of the moon.

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