Peregrine lunar lander fails to reach the Moon

What went wrong?
12 January 2024

Interview with 

Richard Hollingham


The surface of the moon.


There was much excitement this week when a private US company launched a mission to touch down on the Moon’s surface… but it’s not gone to plan. Richard Hollingham is a science journalist, author and BBC presenter.

Richard - Well, Peregrine is, and it will still exist, but it won't land on the moon. It's a private lender. So it had NASA instruments and instruments from other space agencies on board, but it was built by a private company, and NASA bought space on it. There were three cool things about it. Firstly, that it's a private launcher and there's a whole business in private launches, private landers. It was a new launcher and that worked. That was the Vulcan. And also it was going to be the first US soft landing on the moon since 1972. That's not going to happen now, but a lot of it has been good.

Chris - Do we know what has gone wrong?

Richard - It's a propellant leak. We don't know all the details, but they've been tinkering with the software and the hardware on board remotely just to eke out the fuel as much as possible. So yeah, it's a fault with the lander. But this is a new lander. It's a new enterprise. Things like this happen all the time. Elon Musk last year had two massive explosions with these new rockets he's developing and they're carrying on building new big giant rockets.

Chris - Elon Musk had his 'unscheduled disassembly moment', didn't he? I think that's how they dubbed it, wasn't it? But what will they be able to do with Peregrine or what have they done despite the propellant problem?

Richard - Well, the instruments are still working. What they're hoping to do is to be able to get it into lunar orbit and maybe do some science. I mean, it tests out the hardware if nothing else, even if they can't get the instruments to work. But it is stable. They have got it under control. It just hasn't got any fuel to be able to actually land on the moon. But don't worry, there's another private mission coming along. A company called Intuitive Machines is aiming to launch in February, and they're aiming to land their lander in another private mission near the lunar south pole.

Chris - NASA has some capacity there as well. Do they?

Richard - They do. They have an instrument on there in particular that's going to look at what the impact of landing a rocket on the moon is. So the ejection, what sort of spews up from the moon, which is going to have implications for other landers, particularly when we come to land humans on the moon.


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