Private US moon mission suffers 'critical loss of propellant' as alternate mission considered

Not long after taking off the ambitious moon lander hit an anomaly that put the whole mission at risk, ITV News Science Correspondent Martin Stew reports

The team behind the first-ever attempt to make a commercial landing on the moon has said their spacecraft has suffered a "critical loss of propellant" and no longer looks likely to reach its objective.

Astrobiotic Technology said it had successfully reestablished communications with its Peregrine lander after deploying a fix to an issue that prevented its solar panels from pointing correctly at the Sun.

The company confirmed it the battery was now able to charge but not long after they said "it appears the failure within the propulsion system is causing a critical loss of propellant."

The team said they were trying to fix the issue "but given the situation" they are "currently assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time."

In previous updates Astrobiotic warned the battery was running low and its engineers were working on a fix.

The company said: "We are grateful for the outpouring of support we're receiving... This is what makes the space industry so special, that we unite in the face of adversity."

Astrobiotic, which is attempting to rival Elon Musk's SpaceX, is hoping to land the first US spacecraft on the moon in more than half a century.

Its Peregrine lander was shot into space on Monday while attached to the United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket.

The craft, which was launched from Cape Canaveral, in Florida, was expected to make an attempted landing on Friday, February 23.

Astrobiotic hopes to be the first private firm to successfully land on the Moon - something only four countries have accomplished.

SpaceX, meanwhile, is planning to rival the mission and could beat it to the Moon's surface, by taking a more direct path. It's own mission will set off in February.

ITV News Science Correspondent Martin Stew discusses what the mission is hoped to achieve

"First to launch. First to land is TBD [To Be Determined]," said Astrobiotic chief executive John Thornton.

He added the most "exciting" and "nail-biting" challenge will be the lander's hour-long descent to the Moon.

A number of payloads are being carried onboard the Vulcan rocket, including one from the space burial company Celestis.

Dubbed Enterprise Flight, this particular payload contains the human remains of former US presidents John F. Kennedy, George Washington and Dwight Eisenhower, and is headed for deep space.

NASA has awarded hundreds of millions of pounds in funding to both Astrobiotic and SpaceX to build and fly its own lunar landers.

The space agency wants the firms to carry out initial observations before future missions involving astronauts and the transportation of NASA technology are launched.

Apollo 17 was the last moon landing mission to be launched by the US in December 1972.

But NASA's new Artemis programme - named after the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology - is looking to return astronauts to the Moon's surface in the coming years.

The Soviet Union and the US racked up a string of successful moon landings in the 1960s and 70s, before putting touchdowns on pause.

China successfully launched its own mission in 2013, while India became the fourth country to achieve the feat last year.

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