April 18, 2024

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Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lander enters lunar orbit

A robotic spacecraft entered lunar orbit on Wednesday, beginning a historic landing scheduled for early Thursday evening when a US spacecraft lands on the moon's surface for the first time in more than 50 years.

The spacecraft, developed by Houston-based Intuitive Machines, was in “excellent health.” The company saidIt orbited the moon at an altitude of about 57 miles, as it made preparations to land on the moon Thursday at 5:49 p.m. Eastern time. If successful, it will be the first commercial vehicle to land on the moon and the first American spacecraft since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The mission is being carried out under a $118 million contract with NASA, which pays the company to deliver six scientific and technological payloads to the moon. The 14-foot Nova-C lander, dubbed Odysseus, is one of several privately developed robotic spacecraft that NASA hopes will land on the moon in the coming years, helping the space agency eventually land… Astronauts there. As part of the Artemis programme.

Unlike the Apollo program, which sent astronauts to the lunar tropics, Artemis aims to land at the moon's south pole, an unexplored but potentially fruitful region where there is water, in the form of ice, in its permanently shadowed craters. The Odysseus landing point is located in that area near a crater called Malapert A, which is named after a 17th-century Belgian astronomer and is one of the landing sites under consideration for the Artemis program.

Entering lunar orbit was a major milestone for Intuitive Machines, coming six days after the vehicle blasted off on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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“During the next day, while the lander remains in lunar orbit, flight controllers will analyze the full flight data and transmit images of the Moon,” Intuitive Machines said in its report. Share on X.

But landing is very challenging. Last month, another commercial space company, Astrobotic, attempted to reach the moon but failed when its spacecraft experienced engine trouble, resulting in a fuel leak. She said she would try again, perhaps early this year.

While flying around the far side of the Moon, Odysseus will lose contact with Earth for about 45 minutes. Each pass will also be a challenge for the spacecraft, as it alternates between the direct heat of the Sun and the cold darkness behind the Moon, which will require “heat from the batteries to keep its system warm,” according to the company.

As the spacecraft begins its descent toward the surface, it will fire its engine and drop from 62 miles to just over six miles. Then cameras and lasers You will feed the data To the on-board navigation computers that will autonomously guide it to a safe place on the surface. At about 100 feet, it will flip itself into an upright position with the landing legs pointing downward. During landing, engine thrust will continually decrease as the lander burns fuel and, as a result, becomes lighter.

Odysseus also carries a NASA instrument designed to take images of the dust plume kicked up by the spacecraft's engines. Since the space agency expects to eventually land multiple spacecraft close together, it wants to better understand the effects of landing on the moon's surface and environment.

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