US space defeat and Mexico’s missed opportunity

Update 01/09/2023: Added mission report #7, in which Astrobotic reveals new problems with the ship and its mission objectives.

Update 01/10/2023: Both Astrobotic’s problem hypotheses and UNAM’s statement on what Colmena was able to achieve on the ship have been added.

The flight of Astrobotic’s Peregrine module, marking NASA’s return to the Moon after more than 50 years and the first mission from Mexico and UNAM to a satellite, lifted off as planned. However, after just a few hours the trip became uncertain and finally due to the inability to reach the moon.

Problems with the Peregrine module began gradually, first with an anomaly that interfered with the operation of the navigator.and stably orientate towards the Sun to generate power, which was determined to be caused by a propulsion system malfunction that compromised the ship’s ability to perform “smooth landing” on the moon.

Although the ship’s position could be adjusted using impromptu maneuver to recharge batteriesThe source of the problem also turned out to be a failure of the propulsion system, which led to a critical loss of fuel.

Astrobotic also indicated that it was committed to stabilizing the leak, its priority was to make maximum use of the science and data that could be collected, to the extent that the mission team was assessment of possible alternative mission profilesthat is, they are looking for how to use available resources to conduct the greatest amount of research.

Gradually losing control

Their sixth update, posted at 8:00 pm CST on January 8th, was impressive. Received due to fuel leak, Peregrine couldn’t stay stable and its engines were running below power.

Peregrine falcon module
Peregrine falcon module

The Peregrine module installed on the Vulcan rocket before launch

As a result, Astrobotik said, if the engines can remain operational, it is estimated that the spacecraft can continue to navigate safely toward the Sun. about 40 more hoursthat is, until noon on Wednesday, January 10th.

Despite the problems, the essence of the mission remains, as Astrobotic assured that the goal was achieved. bring Peregrina as close to the Moon as possible before losing the ability to keep the ship pointed towards the Sun, with possible loss of power due to not being able to recharge its batteries.

Eliminating the chance of reaching the moon

In Update 7 Peregrine Mission One, Astrobot was more optimistic because despite this, due to a fuel leak there was no possibility of landing on the moonthe craft still had enough fuel to function as a spacecraft and shut down at 11 a.m. central Mexico time on Tuesday, January 9.

In addition, Astrobotic also reported that the fuel was expected to run out in 40 hours (i.e. 40 hours). 3am, Thursday, January 11, 2024), an improvement on previous estimates.

Vista Peregrine Space
Vista Peregrine Space

The camera that captured this image is located on the underside of one of the Peregrina’s payload decks.

Of course, the company agreed to work on new forms extend the life of the shipperforming payload tests and checks, obtaining “valuable data“and spaceflight performance testing of components and software for the next lunar landing attempt on the Griffin mission.”

Astrobotic’s current hypothesis is that the spacecraft introduced valve abnormality between the helium compensator and the oxidizer, which was not sealed after activation. As a result, this caused “high pressure helium avalanche“, which ultimately led to the breakdown of the tank.

The importance of the Sapsan mission

Unlike missions carried out by NASA or any other space agency, the Peregrine mission aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket marked a new stage in private space exploration to the moon.

The project, led by Astrobotic, made it possible to obtain space inside the module to be able to run multiple exploration missions for different clientsincluding several NASA payloads such as a radiation detector and spectrometers to search for traces of ice beneath the moon’s surface.

In the agency’s case, it marked its return to the moon more than 50 years later, not on one of its missions or as part of Artemis, but in a commercial space project.

Peregrine missions
Peregrine missions

Some of the projects that will also travel aboard the Peregrine

Also part of these clients was COLMENA, a project carried out by UNAM, which intended to take it to the Moon. five small robots that will analyze regolith (lunar dust) to produce oxygen and metals, but they will also try to combine them together to create a solar panel and generate energy.

However, now that the Moon landing is no longer possible, the COLMENA mission will not be able to take place. designed to study the surface of the satellitealthough for UNAM all technical developments on the miniaturization of robotic systems and training of students at the university remain knowledge.

Although UNAM cannot analyze the regolith, it believes that COLMENA achieved at least 50% successbecause even on board Peregrine it was possible to achieve the correct ignition of robots in space.

According to Gustavo Medina Tanco, responsible for the mission and head of the Laboratory of Space Instruments (LINX) of the Institute of Nuclear Sciences (ICN) of UNAM, the experience of this mission will allow you to develop an effective design for COLMENA 2which will also carry out the scientific tasks originally planned for this project.

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