After Peregrine failed to land on the moon, Astrobotic still plans to launch another lunar lander in November

  • This month, Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander failed to reach the moon due to a fuel leak.

  • The mission was part of NASA's CLPS initiative, pairing the space agency with commercial companies.

  • Despite the setback, Astrobotic plans to launch a second lunar lander in November.

Earlier this month, the space company Astrobotic launched its Peregrine mission toward the moon, but the spacecraft never made it and ultimately burned up in Earth's atmosphere.

During Astrobotic's first press conference since its failed Peregrine mission, the company's CEO, John Thornton, said Astrobotic is more excited than ever to attempt to send another lunar lander to the moon.

"We are emboldened by this," Thornton said. "We are excited by this." While the failed mission wasn't the outcome the company hoped for, he said it's learned a lot ahead of future launches.

Shortly after its launch on January 8, the Peregrine lander experienced a fuel leak that appears to have been due to a faulty valve. The mishap ultimately forced Astrobotic to terminate the mission.

An outside review board will need to assess the entire mission to determine precisely what went wrong and further inform Astrobotic's next moon-landing mission: Griffin, which is slated to send NASA's VIPER rover to the moon this November.

However, depending on what the review board finds could delay the Griffin mission.

"We are already assessing what those impacts could be for the Griffin program to make sure that this kind of anomaly never happens again," Thornton said.

A faulty valve and a rush of fuel

Soon after Peregrine launched, Astrobotic's team quickly concluded that a valve connecting the helium and the oxidizer failed to properly reseal. Over a week later, that's still the working theory, Thornton said.

The unsealed valve allowed helium to rush into the oxidizer side. "I describe it as a rush because it was very, very fast," Thornton said. Rising pressure ruptured the tank, causing a catastrophic loss of propellant.

Photo of dented Multi-Layer Insulation on board the Peregrine mission.
Peregrine's Multi-Layer Insulation appears dented during its mission to the moon.Astrobotic

At that point, the mission goals changed. Peregrine activated some of its payloads, which then sent back signals and data. "A lot of those payloads were able to report some interesting data," Thornton said.

Getting to the bottom of the anomaly

While Peregrine's mission just ended, outside experts have been reaching out to Astrobotic to be part of the anomaly review board, Thornton said.

"This really truly is humanity against the most challenging environment known to humankind," he said. "The space environment and the comradery that comes out in times of challenge is remarkable, and we're certainly uplifted by that."

astrobotic griffin lander deploys rolls off nasa viper robot moon lunar surface landing Griffin_CoverPage_v2
An illustration showing Astrobotic's Griffin moon-landing system deploying NASA's VIPER ice-hunting robot to the lunar surface.Astrobotic

NASA plans to provide technical experts for the review board as well, Joel Kearns, the agency's deputy associate administrator for exploration, said during the press conference.

"We want to make sure we really understand the root cause and the contributing factors of what happened on Peregrine," Kearns said. It could lead the agency to propose some modifications to the Griffin mission.

Thornton said he expects the review will lead to some changes with Griffin, but it's too early to tell what they are and how many there will be. "Right now we're just focused on getting to that program and flight as fast as possible," he said.

Risk versus reward for NASA

NASA had five payloads aboard Peregrine and planned to pay $108 million to Astrobotics if the company hit 10% of certain milestones during the mission. During the call, Thornton said it hadn't met those goals.

Kearns said NASA hasn't fully assessed the mission to determine what its final payment to Astrobotics will be. However, he said that NASA is purposefully embracing risk as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, partnering with commercial companies to reach the moon.

"Failure is often part of the road to success," he said. New companies will innovate, and "we will all learn and grow from each flight."

Read the original article on Business Insider