Odysseus moon lander to stop working after landing sideways: NPR

These photos, provided by NASA, show images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera team that confirmed the landing of Odysseus.


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These photos, provided by NASA, show images from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter camera team that confirmed the landing of Odysseus.


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A private U.S. lunar lander is expected to cease operations on Tuesday, its mission aborted after landing on its side near the moon's south pole.

Intuitive Machines, the Houston company that built and flew the spacecraft, said Monday that it will continue to collect data until the sun shines on the solar panels. Based on the position of the Earth and Moon, officials expect that to happen on Tuesday morning. That would be less than two to three days a week, or so NASA and other customers counted.

The lander, named Odysseus, is the first American spacecraft to land on the moon in more than 50 years, carrying experiments for NASA, the main sponsor. But last Thursday, it came in too fast and the foot of one of its six legs got caught in the surface, causing it to capsize, company officials said.

Based on photos from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Odysseus landed a mile or so (1.5 kilometers) from its intended destination near the Malabert A crater, just 185 miles or so (300 kilometers) from the moon's south pole.

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Only LRO photos above 56 miles (90 kilometers) show the lander on the surface, but little more than a spot on the grainy images. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University's camera-exit test, intended to capture images of the lander as the two descended, was halted shortly before touchdown after a last-minute navigational problem.

According to NASA, the lander ended up in a small, deformed crater with an inclination of 12 degrees. This is the closest the spacecraft has ever come to the South Pole, an area of ​​interest because of the suspected presence of frozen water in the permanently shadowed craters.

NASA, which plans to land astronauts in the region over the next few years, paid $118 million for Intuition to deliver six probes to the surface. Other customers also had items on board.

Instead of landing upright, the 14-foot (4.3-meter) Odysseus lands on its side, preventing contact with Earth. Some of the antennas were covered by the overturned lander, and the more exposed ones ended up close to the ground, resulting in spotty communications. The solar panels ended up much closer to the surface than expected, less than ideal in mountainous terrain. Even under the best of circumstances, Odysseus had only a week to operate on the surface before the long lunar night set in.

Since the 1960s, only the United States, Russia, China, India, and Japan have successfully pulled off a lunar landing, and only the United States with a crew. Just last month, Japan's lander ended up on the wrong side.

Despite the lopsided landing, Intuition Machines became the first private business to join the elite group. Another American company, Astrobotic Technology, tried it last month, but failed to make it to the moon due to a fuel leak.

Intuitive machines also almost failed. The lander's navigation lasers had not been turned on by the lander's crew before landing in Florida on February 15. Tracking wasn't discovered until Odysseus orbited the moon, forcing flight controllers to rely on the onboard NASA laser-navigation device as an experiment only.

NASA's experimental lasers guided Odysseus close to the Bulls-I landing, resulting in the first American spacecraft to land on the Moon since the Apollo program.

Twelve Apollo astronauts walked on the moon from 1969 to 1972. While NASA periodically sends satellites around the moon, the U.S. didn't launch another moon landing mission until last month. Astrobotic's failed flight was the first under NASA's plan to promote a commercial mission to the Moon.

Both Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic have NASA contracts for more moon landings.

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