Private Peregrine moon lander will now touch down near 'geologic enigma'

Artist's illustration of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the surface of the moon.
Artist's illustration of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander on the surface of the moon. (Image credit: Astrobotic)

NASA has redirected a private U.S. moon lander to a new touchdown site to increase science returns ahead of crewed lunar missions.

The Peregrine lunar lander, built by Pittsburgh-based company Astrobotic, is now slated to touch down, along with a suite of NASA science gear, this year in a strange patch of the moon known as the Gruithuisen Domes.

Scientists can't yet explain how the moon generated enough magma to create the Earth-like domes in the moon's Ocean of Storms region, given that lunar geology lacks two key ingredients: plate tectonics and substantial water. Peregrine's landing in 2023 will be the first in this region ahead of a planned 2026 NASA effort to examine the domes.

Related: NASA's full plate of moon missions before astronauts can go

NASA officials suggested that the successful completion of the uncrewed Artemis 1 moon mission last year, along with preparations to name the Artemis 2 moon-circling crew this spring, gave the agency confidence that Peregrine should move to this region instead of its original target of Lacus Mortis, a basaltic flow plain.

"As NASA's Artemis activities mature, it became evident the agency could increase the scientific value of the NASA payloads if they were delivered to a different location," agency officials wrote in a brief statement on Thursday (Feb. 2). Astrobotic officials pointed to the agency's post on Twitter but offered no independent commentary on the decision.

Moving Peregrine to the new location will also reduce risk for the main payload aboard the 2026 mission slated for the region, NASA said. That payload is a set of instruments called the Lunar Vulkan Imaging and Spectroscopy Explorer (Lunar-VISE) that will examine how the domes were formed and what they are made of. 

"Relocation of Astrobotic’s Peregrine CLPS flight ... near the Domes will present complementary and meaningful data to Lunar-VISE without introducing additional risk to the lander," NASA officials said. 

Artist's illustration of two Artemis astronauts at work on the lunar surface.  (Image credit: NASA)

Peregrine is slated to deliver 11 payloads on behalf of NASA through the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. In the coming years, a suite of robotic landers, rovers and other spacecraft are slated to work alongside Artemis program astronauts, who may touch down near the moon's south pole as soon as 2025 on the Artemis 3 mission.

Peregrine is just about set to go. Astrobotic completed space qualification tests with the lander in late January and are now waiting for word from the launch provider, United Launch Alliance (ULA), before shipping the lander to Florida for mating to ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Liftoff is slated for no earlier than the first quarter of 2023 from from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. It will be the debut launch for Vulcan Centaur and the beginning of an industry shift toward intensive moon exploration. To date, all successful moon landings have been led by governmental space agencies, not private companies. Peregrine also may not be first of the CLPS sojourns to arrive at the moon; Intuitive Machines plans to launch its Nova-C lander in the first quarter of 2023, for example.

And another private mission is flying to the moon right now: The Hakuto-R lander, built by Tokyo-based company ispace, is scheduled to touch down in April. The spacecraft completed a deep-space maneuver on Thursday, putting it on track for landing. Hakuto-R's major payload is Rashid, a small rover provided by the United Arab Emirates' space agency. 

Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of "Why Am I Taller?" (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: