Moon lander Odysseus crashes sideways on lunar surface, but 'alive and well'

US News

The moon lander, known as Odysseus, is “alive and well” but resting on its side a day after its white-knuckle touchdown, the first private spacecraft to reach the lunar surface and the first from the United States since 1972. Friday said.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines explains how human error led to the failure of the spacecraft's laser-based range finders, how engineers discovered the glitch hours before landing and how they developed an emergency solution that saved a potential crash. .

Although Odysseus surfaced intact Thursday, flight engineers' analysis of data showed the six-legged craft tripped over its own legs as it neared the end of its final descent, company officials said at a briefing the next day.

The spacecraft is believed to have caught one of its landing legs on the uneven lunar surface, tipped over, came to a side and came to rest on a rock at one end, said Stephen Aldemus, CEO of the company that built and flew the lander.

It is believed that Odysseus, who lands on the moon, leans over and rests on its side a day after his white-knuckle touch on the moon's surface. AP

However, Odysseus “is stable near or close to where we land,” Altemus told reporters, near Malabert A, a crater on the moon's south pole.

“We're in communication with the lander,” and mission control operators are sending commands to the vehicle, Altemus said, adding that they are working to get the first photographic images of the lunar surface from the landing site.

A brief mission status report posted on the company's website earlier Friday described Odysseus as “alive and well.”

Shortly after Thursday's touchdown, radio signals indicated that the 13-foot-tall hexagonal cylinder Odysseus had landed in an upright position, but Altemus said that was based on pre-landing telemetry.

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Defects of Sides

Although the lander's lateral position is far from ideal, all but one of its six NASA science and technology payloads are mounted on parts of the vehicle and can accept communications, which is great for us, Altemus said. .

“We think we can meet all the needs of commercial payloads,” he added.

Shortly after Thursday's touchdown, radio signals indicated that Odysseus, a 13-foot-tall hexagonal cylinder, had landed in an upright position, the agency said. AP

However, two of the spacecraft's antennas were pointed at the surface, a situation that limited communications with the lander, Altemus said.

The operation of a solar energy panel on top of Odysseus, now facing the wrong way, is uncertain, but a second array on the side of the spacecraft appears to be functional, and the spacecraft's batteries are fully charged. said.

An unmanned robotic spacecraft reached the lunar surface on Thursday after a problem appeared with its navigation system on a nail-biting final approach and descent. Crash landing.

The IM-1 Nova-C lunar lander lands in Houston in October 2023. AP

Company engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida failed to open a safety switch before the lander was launched into space last Thursday, leaving the original laser-powered range finders inoperative, Altemus said.

“It was an oversight on our part,” he said, likening the unattended switch to a gun's safety mechanism.

The problem was only discovered by chance a week later during lunar orbit, when flight controllers were dealing with a different problem, hours before landing.

Otherwise, they might have realized the safety lock was still on when it was time to upgrade the range finders during the last five minutes of descent, said mission director Tim Crain.

Steve Aldemus, co-founder and CEO of Intuitive Machines, provides an update on Odysseus' work during a press conference in Houston on February 23, 2024. AP

Tensions grew when engineers determined the spacecraft's existing software security lock could not be overridden, company officials said.

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Ultimately, engineers scrambled to write the software that would operate the lander, instead relying on an experimental NASA lidar payload onboard — a remote-sensing system that uses rapid pulses of laser-like light and their reflections to determine the distance between objects.

Intended to be used only as a technical demonstration and possible backup, NASA's lidar saved the day, albeit under extreme duress.

“It's very high stakes,” said former SpaceX mission director Abhi Tripathi. “The mission director has to make sure everyone is doing their job, and doing their job right, just like a conductor.”

The spacecraft, which is the first in space to burn a propellant fuel of liquid methane and liquid oxygen, “performed flawlessly” during its seven-day flight around the moon and into its orbit, Crane said.

Immediately after landing, Odysseus's situation is bleak. It took some time after the expected radio blackout to re-establish communications with the spacecraft and determine its fate 239,000 miles from Earth.

When contact was finally renewed, the signal was faint, confirming that the lander had touched down, but leaving mission control immediately uncertain about the vehicle's precise position and position, company officials said during a webcast of the event Thursday evening.

Feb. 16, 2024, the Odysseus lunar lander was captured with Earth on its way to the moon. Xinhua/Shutterstock

Crain said he believes the payloads on the lander will be able to operate for about nine or 10 days, after which the sun will set on the polar landing site.

Shares of Intuitive Machines fell 30% in extended trading on Friday, wiping out all of their rally in Friday's market session, after the company said its moon lander had tilted.

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