Peregrine Moon lander to return and burn up in Earth's atmosphere
The crippled Peregrine Moon Lander is heading back toward Earth, and is expected to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere on January 18, 2024. This is the conclusion of the latest tracking data from Astrobotic’s Mission Control Center.
Now 242,000 miles (289,000 km) from Earth, Peregrine Mission 1 continues to be one of the most successful failures in space exploration. The lift off that was also the maiden flight of a new class of heavy rocket went off flawlessly, the onboard systems and the raft of experiments are powered up and returning data, and everything for America's first lunar landing mission in 52 years seems fine.
Except for one little problem. A malfunctioning valve is bleeding away all the propellant aboard the spacecraft, leaving it increasingly helpless as it hurtles through space.
Its trajectory was originally supposed to send it into a translunar orbit and then into orbit around the Moon where its trajectory would be increasingly tightened in the run up to a soft landing in February. Unfortunately, the leaking propellant put paid to that and altered the spacecraft's trajectory as it swung around the Moon and headed back toward Earth.
Astrobotic, which built, owns, and operates Peregrine has been monitoring the craft using data from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. This tracking information was collected by the space agency's Deep Space Network, which also acts as a telemetry relay for Peregrine's onboard systems.
The company says that the leak has slowed, which is not surprising because so much has been expended that the tank pressure has dropped considerably. This leak is continuing to alter Peregrine's trajectory and Mission Control is still trying to determine which mission alternatives are still open.
Meanwhile, amateur astronomer Tony Dunn has analyzed the JPL data and has calculated that the reentry point for Peregrine will be somewhere over Australia's Great Barrier Reef. Because the lander is of light metal construction and weighs only about 635 lb (288 kg), it is highly unlikely that even fragments will survive as far as the lower atmosphere.