A private company aiming to put a U.S. spacecraft on the surface of the moon for the first time in 50 years saw a successful liftoff early Monday morning but technical mishaps after the launch may keep the unmanned ship from completing its journey.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine lunar lander soared into the sky aboard United Launch Alliance’s brand new Vulcan rocket shortly after 2 a.m. EST Monday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a mission the private space company was hoping would conclude on Feb. 23 with a soft, controlled landing on the lunar surface.

But issues arose shortly after the lander separated from the rocket as Astrobotic first reported that a maneuver to position the craft’s solar panels to charge onboard batteries had failed and it was attempting to conduct the move via an alternative manual procedure. The company later reported that the maneuver was successful but had discovered bigger problems that involved the loss of propellant, a necessary component for a series of maneuvers required for the spacecraft to journey to the moon and execute a controlled landing.

“Unfortunately, it appears the failure within the propulsion system is causing a critical loss of propellant,” Astrobotic reported Monday afternoon. “The team is working to try and stabilize this loss, but given the situation, we have prioritized maximizing the science and data we can capture. We are currently assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time.”

NASA’s plan to return astronauts to the moon falling behind schedule according to new audit

In a later posting on X, formerly known as Twitter, Astrobotic shared a photo that appeared to show some distortion of Peregrine’s outer shell and noted the anomaly was evidence of the propellant loss issues.

Astrobotic also reported that it was using Peregrine’s “existing power to perform as many payload and spacecraft operations as possible.”

While the options for next moves were unclear, experts note that any significant propellant loss would likely prevent Peregrine from continuing its lunar journey.

Peregrine is the first lander mission for Astrobotic, which started in 2007. The company is aiming to become the first U.S. commercial space effort to successfully land a spacecraft on the lunar surface. The lander carries a total of 20 commercial payloads from six different countries, including five from NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative. The payload teams have missions that vary from seeking indications of water-ice near the lunar surface to demonstrating a rover swarm. The lander also has several payloads representing humanity through artwork as well as cultural and historic artifacts, according to Astrobotic.

“If you’ve been following the lunar industry, you understand landing on the moon’s surface is incredibly difficult,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic, in a press release ahead of the launch. “With that said, our team has continuously surpassed expectations and demonstrated incredible ingenuity during flight reviews, spacecraft testing, and major hardware integrations. We are ready for launch, and for landing.” 

Another private U.S. space company is also vying to be the first to return to the surface of the moon.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines was founded in 2013 and while its Nova-C lunar lander isn’t scheduled to take flight aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket until mid-February, it could actually get to the moon faster than Astrobotic’s Peregrine ship thanks to a more direct flight plan. According to a report from The Associated Press, the Nova-C could be set for a landing within a week after leaving its home planet.

Both Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines programs are supported by funding under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services and are executing their first missions under NASA-backed contracts.

NASA says commercial deliveries by companies participating in the lunar lander effort, which has $2.6 billion in funding through 2028, will perform science experiments, test technologies and demonstrate capabilities to help the U.S. space agency explore the moon as it prepares for human missions planned as part of its multiphase Artemis program.

According to a recent assessment by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, NASA’s Artemis effort is currently tracking to return astronauts to the lunar surface no sooner than 2027.