United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket lifts off.

Peregrine, aiming to be first private lunar lander, burns up in Earth’s atmosphere

After languishing in space for more than a week, a doomed moon lander met a fiery end Thursday, burning up in Earth’s atmosphere to end its mission.

The privately built spacecraft, named Peregrine, was designed to journey to the moon and settle on the lunar surface. But shortly after launching into orbit Jan. 8, the lander suffered a critical propellant leak that forced its operators to scrap the entire mission.

Astrobotic Technology, a Pittsburgh-based company that developed the lander, said Thursday that the hobbled spacecraft safely burned up in Earth’s atmosphere around 4:04 p.m. ET over a remote stretch of the South Pacific Ocean.

In an update posted on X, the company confirmed that it lost contact with the spacecraft shortly before 4 p.m. ET, indicating that the lander did re-enter the atmosphere, but added that officials “await independent confirmation from government entities.”

An early malfunction had left the Peregrine lander with no way to reach the moon. Astrobotic’s team spent nine days fighting to save the spacecraft and its onboard instruments and to stretch out what remained of the mission.

Though engineers were able to stabilize the spacecraft, Astrobotic said last week that it was not possible to attempt a controlled landing on the moon.

“We commend @Astrobotic for their perseverance,” NASA said Tuesday in a statement posted on X.

The Peregrine mission was closely watched because it was the first U.S. lunar lander to launch into space in more than 50 years. Had it been successful, Peregrine would have also become the first commercially developed spacecraft to land on the moon.

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In addition to NASA, only the former Soviet Union, China and India have successfully carried out controlled, or “soft,” landings on the moon. Japan is looking to join that elite club with an attempted landing Friday of the country’s Smart Lander for Investigating Moon, or SLIM, probe.

The Peregrine mission was part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which was set up to spur development of new moon landers by private sector companies that NASA can eventually hire to transport cargo and scientific instruments to the lunar surface.

A separate Houston-based company, Intuitive Machines, is expected to launch its own lander, commercially developed as part of the same NASA initiative, to the moon next month.

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services program is part of the agency’s Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon over the next few years, with the goal of eventually launching regular flights to the moon and building a lunar base camp. NASA recently announced delays to a pair of upcoming Artemis missions, pushing a lunar fly-around that was to launch later this year to 2025, and postponing the first Artemis landing attempt to the following year.

Denise Chow

Denise Chow is a reporter for NBC News Science focused on general science and climate change.