Astrobotic have given up on their Peregrine-1 spacecraft landing on the moon after it sprang a crippling propellant leak.
The problem occurred in the first few hours of the lunar lander’s journey into space.
The Pittsburgh-based firm – which had been hoping to be the first private company to complete a moon landing – said there was “no chance” of the spacecraft being able to survive the descent.
“Given the propellant leak, there is, unfortunately, no chance of a soft landing on the moon,” Astrobotic said in a statement.
However, the company said the lander has enough fuel left to allow it to operate “as a spacecraft” while engineers decide on its new mission in orbit.
US space agency NASA, which paid $108m (£85m) to send scientific instruments up with the lander, had hoped the craft would scope out an area of the moon ahead of its own planned landing next year.
However, on Tuesday, following Astrobotic’s statement, NASA announced it had postponed landing astronauts on the moon until at least 2026.
What happened to Peregrine?
Peregrine Mission-1 took off in Florida on a new Vulcan rocket at 7.18am UK time on Monday and had been scheduled to land on 23 February.
It was intended to be the first US spacecraft to land on the moon’s surface since Apollo 17 in 1972 and appeared to lift off into space as planned.
The problems with the Peregrine Mission-1 lander were reported around seven hours after Monday’s pre-dawn lift-off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Astrobotic previously said Peregrine “successfully” separated from the rocket but an “anomaly” had occurred.
The company said the propulsion system problem had “threatened the ability of the spacecraft to soft land on the moon”.
Astrobotic said a photo from a lander-mounted camera, showed a “disturbance” in a section of thermal insulation – which aligned with what was so far known of the problem.
The company was aiming to be the first private business to successfully land on the moon, something only four countries have accomplished.
A second lander from a Houston company is due to launch next month. NASA gave the two companies millions to build and fly their own lunar landers.
The space agency wanted the privately owned landers to scope out the area before astronauts arrive while delivering tech and science experiments for the space agency, other countries and universities.
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The $108m (£85m) paid to Astrobotic, a space logistics start-up, was a fraction of the cost of launching one of NASA’s own missions.
The lander, which is the size of a garden shed, is also carrying the remains of several Star Trek cast members and the DNA of former US presidents including John F Kennedy.
NASA postpones its moon landing
The last time the US launched a moon landing mission was in December 1972. Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt became the 11th and 12th men to walk on the moon.
NASA had been planning to return astronauts to the moon’s surface within the next few years under its Artemis programme.
However, on Tuesday, the space agency pushed its crewed flight around the moon – Artemis 2 – to September 2025 because of technical issues.
It was previously reported by the news agency Reuters, quoting two unnamed sources, that the mission was set to be pushed beyond its planned late-2024 target after issues were uncovered with the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew capsule’s batteries during vibration tests.
NASA also pushed its first human moon landing in 50 years – Artemis 3 – back to September 2026.