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Peregrine Moon lander on course to burn up in Earth’s atmosphere

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A private spacecraft which blasted off to the Moon last week is on its way back to Earth after a failed mission. The Peregrine Mission One (PM1), built by US space company Astrobotic, encountered a fuel leak shortly after launching on January 8. While Astrobotic engineers were able to stabilise the spacecraft, the leak had caused enough damage to rule out a safe landing on the lunar surface. The company said safe re-entry to Earth “is our top priority”, with a controlled crash planned over a remote area of the South Pacific on Thursday at 9pm UK time. As it enters the Earth’s atmosphere, Peregrine will hit air molecules at about 17,000mph and mostly burn up and disintegrate. Any leftover debris will end up in the Pacific. It means that rather than floating around as space junk and being a crash hazard for other spacecraft and space objects, Peregrine will be safely disposed of. UK scientists who helped develop a key piece of technology on Peregrine said their sensor and electronics are performing well, despite the mission not going as planned. The Open University and RAL Space helped build the exospheric mass spectrometer – an onboard instrument known as the PITMS (Peregrine ion trap mass spectrometer).The team said it is working around the clock to gather data from the spacecraft before it is destroyed. The 1.2-tonne probe – about the size of a garden shed – launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The mission’s aim was to land on February 23. But shortly after separating from United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, the Astrobotic team found that Peregrine was struggling to achieve a stable position pointing towards the Sun. Astrobotic later said the cause may have been a valve on the spacecraft failing to close. The company said it had received data from all nine payloads designed to communicate with the lander. Astrobotic was the first of three US companies to try to send a spacecraft to the Moon as part of Nasa’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. Two other commercial ventures – Intuitive Machines and Firefly – have planned missions to the lunar surface this year. The Peregrine mission’s aim was to deliver five Nasa instruments to the Moon’s surface, with the aim of studying the lunar water cycle and the local environment.

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