The first commercial mission to the Moon, known as the Peregrine mission, was developed by Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh-based company. It was scheduled to launch on January 8, 2024, at 2:18 a.m. ET. This mission is significant as it represents a major milestone for the commercial space industry, potentially becoming the first private company to achieve a controlled or “soft” landing on the Moon.
The Peregrine lander was set to carry five NASA instruments to the lunar surface, including devices to measure the radiation environment and spectrometers to analyze the composition of the Moon’s surface.
The mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which aims to contract private firms to transport scientific payloads to the Moon, thereby supporting NASA’s efforts to return astronauts to the lunar surface.
The mission was launched aboard the next-generation Vulcan Centaur booster, marking its debut flight. However, after the launch, the mission encountered a critical issue—a fuel leak in the spacecraft—which put the mission in jeopardy. The leak was discovered several hours into the flight, and despite efforts to stabilize the loss of propellant, it was uncertain whether the lander would be able to successfully complete its journey and soft-land on the Moon as planned.
If successful, the Peregrine lander was expected to operate for up to 10 days on the lunar surface before the landing site would be plunged into darkness. The mission also included a payload from the space burial company Celestis, containing 265 capsules with human remains and DNA samples from former US presidents.
Astrobotic’s Peregrine mission represents a significant step in the commercialization of space and lunar exploration, with the potential to open up access to the Moon beyond government and military endeavors.