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Private Peregrine moon lander failure won't stop NASA's ambitious commercial lunar program


NEW ORLEANS — It was only two days ago when Peregrine, the inaugural private lander contracted under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, brilliantly blasted toward space aboard the first private flight of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket. 


Mere hours into the journey, Peregrine started to fail. 


Astrobotic, the company behind the spacecraft, continues to provide updates on how Peregrine seems to be faring post-anomaly; the struggling craft even provided a photo for scientists to analyze while figuring out what to do. Honestly, things aren't looking great for the lander, and Astobotic has confirmed it won't be making a soft touchdown on the lunar surface


However, the morning after Peregrine's downfall began, the ultimate purpose of CLPS seemed to shine through during astrophysicist Jack Burns' earnestly optimistic presentation at the American Astronomical Society's 243rd meeting. Though of course disappointed while looking back at the failure of the first official CLPS mission, Burns, a professor emeritus in the Department of Astrophysical and Planetary Sciences and in the Department of Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, makes a point to simultaneously look forward to what will soon be the second mission. The attempt is scheduled for February, and Peregrine's setback isn't expected to change that.


"We saw the first launch yesterday of Astrobotic," Burns said during the presentation. "Unfortunately, it's had some propulsion problems and is leaking some fuel, so we're not sure it's going to be able to make it onto the surface. But, it's going to be followed next month by a second spacecraft: A lander built by the Intuitive Machines company."


That lander, dubbed Nova-C, will launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket to shuttle six NASA payloads to the lunar surface — one of which Burns is involved with. It's called ROLSES, which stands for Radio Wave Observations on the Lunar Surface of the photoElectron Sheath, and it's absolutely fascinating. But beyond simply getting pumped for CLPS' next try and detailing the bright promise of ROLSES, Burns emphasized that this second go will actually demonstrate the key point of NASA's commercial endeavor. "It's not a one shot deal," he told Space.com


The whole reason NASA started the CLPS program is because it wanted a cheaper, more efficient way to bring easier-to-replicate scientific payloads to space. "If, heaven forbid, the James Webb Space Telescope did not deploy, we really would be stuck," Burns said of the monumental $10 billion observatory currently locked into position on the side of Earth that never faces the sun. CLPS, meanwhile, offers a means of distributing risks and costs among many landers and missions. "The idea behind the CLPS program is for rapid acquisition and delivery of services," he said.


If private companies can supply a rocket and lander for the agency, NASA scientists can essentially be paying customers and toss on a few experiments. Non-NASA scientists can do so, too. And though the apparent failure of Peregrine has understandably called into question whether NASA's CLPS concept is a little undercooked, Burns further remarked that Astrobiotic's story doesn't end with Peregrine either. "They've got another shot," he said. "They've got multiple shots, and even another mission coming up in about a year."

Still, he says, "we're friends with all the folks working on Peregrine and Astrobotic and so we were there rooting for them to be successful. So, we're heartbroken."


Follow Pegasus Aerospace System on Twitter @systemaerospace. Follow us on Twitter @systemaerospace or Facebook, Linkedin and Instagram @pegasusaerospace.

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