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After a dramatic journey, the Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer arrives to Earth

After an exciting 10 days in space, the Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer (PITMS) has returned to Earth, catching fire as it re-enters Earth over the Pacific Ocean.

The instrument, which was quickly developed by RAL Space, the Open University, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, was intended to be used on the moon to analyze the composition of the incredibly thin lunar atmosphere. However, problems with the mission arose soon after it departed Earth, as a critical propellant leak was found on the lander.

Launched on the maiden voyage of the Vulcan Centaur rocket, PITMS was part of an ambitious mission of firsts, riding aboard Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander, the world’s first commercial lunar lander.

The PITMS team reports that, despite not reaching the moon, the mission was mainly successful and accomplished most of its objectives when they were able to turn the instrument on and show that it was operating as it would have on the lunar surface.

“We were able to power on our instrument and checked everything was functioning as it should,” stated Roland Trautner, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) project manager for PITMS. The data showed that our instrument is in good shape, that it withstood the extreme conditions of space and the launch, and that the device is capable of producing clean data, which made us very happy.

“We developed the spectrometer using a novel fast-track project management approach, delivering the payload in less than two years, which is twice as fast as typical payload development programs. We defined our success criteria such that what we have now achieved—delivering our instrument to NASA and the successful checkout of the instrument in orbit—constitutes 90% of our project’s success.”

According to Christopher Howe, Group Leader of Production and Software at RAL Space, “The success of EMS is also a testament of the good collaboration between the space agencies, industry and academia.”

“The short development time would not have been possible without an efficient and trustful working relationship between those entities.”

Future space missions, such as ENFYS—a spectrometer intended to be installed aboard the Rosalind Franklin Mars Rover, scheduled for launch in 2028—will employ the technology created for PITMS.

PITMS is the result of an ongoing partnership between NASA GSFC, the OU, and RAL Space with the goal of advancing lunar science.

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