The Astrobotic Peregrine spacecraft launched last week for a lunar landing, but a propulsion malfunction left it unable to complete its mission.
Jan. 19: This article was updated to include information from a news conference the day after it was first published.
A spacecraft that was headed to the surface of the moon has ended up back at Earth instead, burning up in the planet’s atmosphere on Thursday afternoon.
Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh announced in a post on the social network X that it lost communication with its Peregrine moon lander at 3:50 p.m. Eastern time, which served as an indication that it entered the Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific at around 4:04 p.m.
On Friday, the United States Space Command confirmed the destruction of Peregrine. Astrobotic will bring together a review board of space industry experts to figure out what went wrong.
It was an intentional, if disappointing, end to a trip that lasted 10 days and covered more than half a million miles, with the craft traveling past the orbit of the moon before swinging back toward Earth. But the spacecraft never got close to its landing destination on the near side of the moon.
The main payloads on the spacecraft were from NASA, part of an effort to put experiments on the moon at a lower cost by using commercial companies. Astrobotic’s launch was the first in the program, known as Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS. NASA paid Astrobotic $108 million to transport five experiments that cost $9 million to build.
Peregrine launched flawlessly on Jan. 8 from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on the debut flight of a brand-new rocket known as Vulcan. But soon after it separated from the rocket’s second stage, its propulsion system suffered a major malfunction, and the spacecraft could not keep its solar panels pointed at the sun.