Critical Fuel Leak Threatens First U.S. Moon Landing Attempt in 50 Years

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh-based private company, experienced a critical fuel leak just hours after launching its spacecraft in an attempt to land on the moon. The malfunction occurred after the company’s lander, named Peregrine, successfully oriented itself towards the sun to collect sunlight and charge its battery. However, it was soon discovered that there was a critical loss of fuel, dashing hopes for a planned moon landing on February 23.

Astrobotic Technology announced that it is currently assessing alternative mission profiles that may be feasible in light of the propulsion system failure. The problem was reported approximately seven hours after the liftoff from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, thanks to United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket. The critical fuel loss jeopardizes the spacecraft’s ability to soft land on the moon, as it relies on engines and thrusters for maneuvering during the lunar descent.

Astrobotic Technology had aimed to become the first private business to successfully land on the moon, following in the footsteps of only four countries. The company, along with another Houston-based company, received millions from NASA to build and fly their own lunar landers. These privately owned landers play a crucial role in NASA’s Artemis program, delivering tech and science experiments to the moon ahead of astronauts’ arrival.

The last U.S. moon landing mission occurred in December 1972, with twelve astronauts having walked on the moon in total. However, China and India have since joined the elite club, while Russia, Japan, and Israel have experienced unsuccessful landing attempts. Despite the setback, Astrobotic’s mission is part of a larger effort to return astronauts to the moon’s surface in the next few years, as NASA’s Artemis program plans to conduct a lunar fly-around with four astronauts.

Next month, SpaceX will launch another lander from Intuitive Machines, and both spacecraft could attempt to land within days or even hours of each other. In Astrobotic’s case, the Peregrine lander carried various payloads, including a chip of rock from Mount Everest, toy-size cars from Mexico, and the ashes and DNA of deceased space enthusiasts. While the Navajo Nation expressed concerns over the launch due to the human remains, Astrobotic CEO John Thornton promised to find a solution for future missions.

Despite the financial challenges, Astrobotic’s inaugural flight of the Peregrine lander carries the hopes and dreams of many. The mission not only seeks to deliver payloads but also offers opportunities to learn and grow from both successes and setbacks.