Moon mission Odysseus to be cut short after tumble

World Tuesday 27/February/2024 14:29 PM
By: DW
Moon mission Odysseus to be cut short after tumble

Florida: Space engineers expect the lunar probe Odysseus to stop working later on Tuesday after it landed too quickly and tumbled sideways onto the moon's surface.

The privately-built uncrewed lander has already sent images from the farthest south that any vessel has ever landed on the moon, but the awkward touchdown has significantly cut its lifespan.

The Houston-based company Intuitive Machines, which constructed the spacecraft, said flight controllers intend to collect data until the lander’s solar panels were no longer exposed to light.

"Based on Earth and moon positioning, we believe flight controllers will continue to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning," the company said.

The mission had been due to last between a week and ten days but is now due to last only five days.

The sideways posture substantially diminished the amount of sunlight that could reach Odysseus' solar panels to power the mission. Two of its antennae were pointed to the ground, limiting communications with the lander.

The company tweeted that Odysseus had sent images from the lunar surface of its vertical descent to the landing site by the moon's Malapert A crater, as well as a snapshot taken shortly after the ill-fated landing.

Intuitive Machines says laser range finders — to direct altitude and forward-velocity values to the craft's autonomous navigation system — were inoperable because engineers had failed to unlock a safety switch before launch on February 15.

The forward speed of the spacecraft on landing was about twice as fast as expected, and company executives say it may have been a factor in stumbling. An improvised software "patch" was used to help avoid a crash landing that would have destroyed the probe.

Intuitive Machines says it is still uncertain if the original laser range finders might have made a difference if they had functioned.

Despite the glitches, Odysseus became the first US spacecraft to land on the moon since NASA's last Apollo mission, which carried astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt to the lunar surface in 1972.

It was also the first moon landing by a commercially made and operated spacecraft after three previous attempts failed. They include one mission by another US company, Astrobiotic, last month.

Intuitive Machines also joins an exclusive club of five countries to achieve soft lunar landings: the Soviet Union, the United States, China, India, and Japan.

NASA paid some $120 million to the mission, sending a suite of instruments to increase scientific understanding of the moon's south pole, touted as a good site for any future lunar base. NASA is planning to send astronauts back to the Moon later this decade.

Japanese space agency JAXA's SLIM lander, which touched down in January, also had an awkward landing that limited its usefulness. It unexpectedly came back to life on Sunday and carried out scientific observations of a crater.