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Peregrine spacecraft snaps stunning Earth photo just before burning up

Astrobotic’s Peregrine spacecraft is no more.

After just over 10 days in space in a mission cut short by a fuel leak that began soon after launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the spacecraft is believed to have up during a high-speed reentry into Earth’s atmosphere over the South Pacific on Thursday afternoon, Astrobotic said.

The Pittsburgh-based company shared one of the final images captured by Peregrine as it approached the end of its journey. It shows a stunning view of Earth with a sliver of sunlight around it, while the foreground includes a part of the spacecraft itself.

“We dedicate this image to our customers, partners, and team who all stood with us throughout Peregrine Mission One,” Astrobotic said in an accompanying message.

An image of Earth shot by the Peregrine spacecraft.

“As expected, Astrobotic lost telemetry with the Peregrine spacecraft at around 3:50 p.m. ET,” the company said in a later post on social media.

“While this indicates the vehicle completed its controlled reentry over open water in the South Pacific at 4:04 p.m. ET, we await independent confirmation from government entities.”

More information will be provided on Friday during a teleconference that starts at 1 p.m. ET. The event will be live-streamed on NASA’s YouTube channel.

Astrobotic also shared a gorgeous video of Earth captured by the spacecraft shortly after it successfully separated from the ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket that carried it to orbit last week:

(2/2)Peregrine captured this video moments after successful separation from @ulalaunch Vulcan rocket. Counterclockwise from top left center is the DHL MoonBox, Astroscale's Pocari Sweat Lunar Dream Time Capsule, & Peregrine landing leg. Background: our big blue marble, Earth!

— Astrobotic (@astrobotic) January 19, 2024

Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One was vying to become the first commercial lander to achieve a soft touchdown on the surface of the moon. Doing so would also have made it the first U.S. lander to reach the moon since the final Apollo mission more than five decades ago.

But a propellant leak soon after launch — likely caused by a valve that failed to reseal itself properly — meant that the spacecraft had no hope of reaching the moon to attempt a soft touchdown.

Despite the disappointment, Astrobotic engineers were able to power up and receive data from some of Peregrine’s 21 payloads that had been placed on board by a range of customers.

Astrobotic will use everything it learns from the failed Peregrine mission to help it better prepare for its next effort to reach the lunar surface when it launches the Griffin lander in November.

The mission is part of NASA’s efforts to work with private American companies to deliver science and technology to the lunar surface through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program ahead of the first crewed Artemis moon landing, which is currently scheduled for 2026.

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Trevor Mogg
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