US firm abandons Moon landing
US efforts to return to the Moon for the first time in more than five decades have been pushed back as a private aerospace firm canceled its planned lunar landing and NASA delayed a manned mission by at least a full year.
Astrobotic Technology announced on Tuesday that its Peregrine unmanned spacecraft would not be able to make a soft landing on the Moon because of a fuel leak. A stuck valve may have caused a tank rupture just a few hours after the landing craft was launched on Monday. The craft is still able to gather valuable data, but it is expected to run out of propellant by Thursday, Astrobotic said.
The firm’s Moon landing had been scheduled for February 23, which would have been the first in history by a private company and the first US landing since 1972. A Houston company, Intuitive Machines, plans to launch a separate lunar landing mission next month.
Astrobotic’s decision came on the same day that NASA pushed back its planned Moon missions by one year each. The Artemis II mission, which aims to fly four astronauts around the Moon in NASA’s next-generation capsule, was delayed to September 2025. The Artemis III project to land astronauts near the Moon’s south pole was rescheduled for September 2026 at the earliest.
NASA said it needs more time to tweak and test new technology on its Orion spacecraft, including its life-support system and heatshield, for manned flights. Elon Musk’s SpaceX has the contract to provide the new NASA landing craft that will be used for Artemis III.
“We are returning to the moon in a way we never have before, and the safety of our astronauts is NASA’s top priority as we prepare for future Artemis missions,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement. He added that early equipment testing revealed issues that require more time to resolve.
Astrobotic’s spacecraft carried 20 payloads for commercial and government customers, including NASA, which it planned to deliver to the Moon. The company developed Peregrine under a $108 million contract with NASA, which saw the mission as a way to put a relatively cheap robotic lander on the Moon. The vehicle reportedly carried scientific instruments and a navigation sensor for NASA.