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A U.S. Spacecraft Trying to Reach the Moon for the First Time in 50 Years Is Running Out of Fuel

by multimill
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A U.S. spacecraft’s mission to the moon has come to an abrupt halt.

The Peregrine spacecraft, designed and operated by the aerospace company Astrobotic Technology, took off from Cape Canaveral on Monday with the lunar surface in its sights. But after separating from its rocket, the spacecraft couldn’t orient itself toward the sun, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Peregrine now has a critical fuel leak that is making it hard for Astrobotic to maintain the stable pointing of the spacecraft, according to the BBC. The firm says mission life could now be measured in just hours. As a result, America’s first lunar landing in half a century is no longer possible.

“At this time the goal is to get Peregrine as close to lunar distance as we can before it loses the ability to maintain its Sun-pointing position and subsequently loses power,” a statement from Astrobotic reads.

Peregrine ran into trouble shortly after launch. The lander was struggling to keep its solar panels positioned toward the sun to charge its batteries because a major leak in the propulsion system was pushing it out of alignment. To maintain the correct orientation in flight, the craft’s thrusters are now having to work overtime and are eating into the limited fuel supply.

Astrobotic estimates Peregrine has less than two days’ worth of propellant left before reserves are exhausted. With its solar panels no longer collecting sunlight, the spacecraft will rapidly lose power and start tumbling.

Peregrine was expected to touch down on the lunar surface on February 23. While no humans are on board, the craft is carrying 20 scientific instruments, including five from NASA that would help study the behavior of water on the moon. Also inside are DNA samples and cremated remains, which the company had said would “remain on the moon as a permanent tribute to the intrepid souls who never stopped reaching for the stars.”

The commercial flight was commissioned by NASA, which is planning to spend $2.6 billion over the next decade on the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The government agency is also forging ahead with its Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the moon. Later this year or early next, NASA is set to send four astronauts into space to circle the moon—a precursor to the eventual moonwalk. Fingers crossed those missions run more smoothly.

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