April 17, 2024

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The Odysseus lunar lander has landed sideways on the moon's surface after a historic landing

The Odysseus lunar lander has landed sideways on the moon's surface after a historic landing

Intuitive machines

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander captured a wide-field-of-view image of the moon's Schaumberger Crater on Thursday, at an altitude of about 6 miles (10 kilometers) and about 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the spacecraft's intended landing site.


The Odysseus lunar lander is sitting sideways on the moon's surface, Intuitive Machines, the rover's manufacturer, said during a press conference on Friday.

The revelation comes after Intuitive Machines initially described Odysseus, also known as “Odie” or IM-1, as “straight” in an update. to publish To the social media platform X immediately after the historic mission landed on the moon on Thursday. But the company's CEO, Steve Altimus, said data later showed that the spacecraft was likely tilted on its side after one of its feet struck a lunar rock.


Steve Altimus, CEO and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, uses a model to represent how the Odysseus spacecraft landed on the moon.

“We think it landed (moving) at about 6 miles per hour this way, and about 2 miles per hour (horizontally along the surface) and landed on the surface, and the lander flipped over that way,” Altimus said. A small model of the lander to illustrate the suspected problem during a press conference.

Only one piece of Odysseus's payload is on the side of the spacecraft facing the lunar surface: a piece of art sent to the moon by one of Intuitive Machines' commercial customers, Altimus said.

The CEO also confirmed that the spacecraft remained in stable condition, with its solar panels capturing sunlight and fully charging its batteries. Some of NASA's experimental technology payloads have already been tested, verifying some key mission objectives.

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Notably, Intuitive Machines realized before landing that Odysseus had a defective piece of navigation equipment. The company chose to bypass the broken pieces and use an experimental NASA instrument that happened to be on board: the Navigation Doppler Radar, or NDL, developed at NASA's Langley Research Center.

Finding out about the problem initially was “like a punch in the stomach, where we were going to lose the mission,” Altimus said.

The company's engineers had to essentially act as hackers, figuring out a way to patch data from NASA's NDL — which was supposed to be on a minor test flight — in the hopes that it could salvage the mission.

The breakthrough was eventually successful, and the spacecraft reached the lunar surface in operational condition. No other American spacecraft has been able to land smoothly on the moon's surface since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, and no commercial spacecraft before Odysseus has been able to accomplish such a feat.

The space agency and Intuitive Machines are still working to figure out whether Odysseus can achieve all of its science goals, according to Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

“We're evaluating to see: Are there any measurements still coming from any of the NASA-supplied payloads that probably can't be done especially because of this new trend?” Kearns said.

The spacecraft has some issues with the speed and consistency of collecting data from Odysseus.

The US space agency, the mission's main financial backer, celebrated the mission as a major win.

“This is a tremendous accomplishment,” Kearns said Friday.

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The spacecraft “traveled not only to the region where we previously landed — decades ago near the equator with the Apollo missions — but to the unusual region of the (lunar) South Pole, which is the focus of future human Artemis missions,” Kearns said. In reference to NASA's efforts to return astronauts to the moon later this decade.

Intuitive Machines is still working to accurately assess how much work Odysseus can do on the moon's surface and confirm the physical condition of the spacecraft after its unexpected fall.

“We hope to get photos and do a real assessment of the structure and evaluate all the external equipment,” Altimos said.

The company has not yet shared photos taken by the spacecraft while it was on the moon, although it did reveal a shot taken by the lander as it approached the lunar surface on Thursday. Intuitive Machines also plans to take out a device aboard Odysseus called EagleCam, which can capture an image of the spacecraft from afar, Altemus confirmed on Friday.

All told, Odysseus will likely be able to spend about nine days working on the moon's surface, according to Tim Crane, chief technology officer at Intuitive Machines. This is a slightly longer projection than what the company showed at Statement of facts ahead of launch, suggesting that Odie will have “about seven days.”

“It will bring tears to my eyes,” Crane said when asked how long the spacecraft would operate on the lunar surface.

“After nine days, the Sun will move beyond our solar system in any way,” Crane said. “Once the sun sets on Odie, the batteries will try to keep the car warm and lively but in the end, they will fall too cold. Hence our electronics will not survive the extreme cold of the lunar night.

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