Odysseus lunar lander is knocked sideways on the moon's surface but is 'alive and well'

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The lunar lander, called Odysseus, is “alive and well” but resting on its side a day after touching down as the first private spacecraft ever to reach the lunar surface, and the first from the United States since 1972, the company behind the rover. He said on Friday.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines also revealed how human error led to the failure of the spacecraft's laser-based rangefinders, how engineers discovered the fault by chance hours before landing, and how they improvised an emergency fix that saved the mission from a potential crash. .

Although Odysseus reached the surface intact on Thursday, analysis of data by flight engineers showed that the six-legged rover apparently tripped over its own feet as it neared the end of its final descent, company officials said at a news conference the next day.

The spacecraft is believed to have caught one of its feet on the moon's uneven surface and flipped over, coming to rest sideways, propped up on a rock at one end, said CEO Stephen Altemus, whose company built and flew the lander.

The Odysseus lunar lander is believed to have flipped over and rested on its side a day after landing on the moon. AP

Altimus told reporters that all indications point to Odysseus “being lodged near or at the intended landing site,” near a crater called Malapert A in the moon’s south pole region.

“We have communications with the lander,” Altimus said, and mission control operators are sending commands to the rover, adding that they are working to obtain the first photographs of the lunar surface from the landing site.

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

The company said shortly after the landing on Thursday that radio signals indicated that Odysseus, a 13-foot-tall hexagonal cylinder, landed upright, but Altimus said that was an incorrect conclusion based on telemetry before landing.

Disadvantages of aspects

Although the lander's sideways position is far from ideal, company officials said that all but one of NASA's six science and technology payloads were mounted on parts of the vehicle that were left exposed and receiving communications, “which is very good for us.” Ultimus said. .

“We believe we can meet all commercial payload needs” as well, he added.

Shortly after the landing Thursday, radio signals indicated that Odysseus, a 13-foot-tall hexagonal cylinder, had landed upright, the company said. AP

However, Altimus said two of the spacecraft's antennas were left pointed at the surface, a circumstance that would limit communications with the lander.

The function of the solar panel on top of Odysseus, now facing the wrong way, is uncertain, but the second array on the side of the spacecraft appears to be in good condition, and the spacecraft's batteries are fully charged. He said.

The unmanned robotic spacecraft reached the lunar surface on Thursday after a final approach and a difficult landing as a problem developed in its navigation system, requiring flight controllers on Earth to use an untested workaround to avoid what could have been disastrous. Plane crash landing.

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

Altimus said the original laser rangefinders became malfunctioning because the company's engineers at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida inadvertently failed to open a safety switch before the lander was launched into space last Thursday.

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“It was an oversight on our part,” he said, likening the overlooked switch to the safety mechanism on a firearm.

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

Otherwise, they might have realized that the safety lock was still on when it was time to turn on the rangefinders during the final five minutes of landing, mission manager Tim Crane said.

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

Company officials said tensions escalated when engineers determined that software on board the spacecraft could not bypass a safety lock to activate rangefinders.

Ultimately, engineers scrambled to write software to guide the lander rather than rely on NASA's experimental lidar payload on board — a remote sensing system that uses rapid pulses of laser-like light and their reflections to judge distances between objects.

Intended to be used only as a technical demonstration, as well as a potential backup, NASA's lidar device saved the day, even though it was used under extreme duress.

“It's a very big risk,” said Abhi Tripathi, SpaceX's former mission director. “The taskmaster has to make sure everyone is doing their job, doing their job well, almost like a conductor.”

The spacecraft, which burns propellants of liquid methane and liquid oxygen for the first time in space, “performed flawlessly” during its seven-day journey to and in orbit around the moon, Crane said.

Odysseus's condition was ambiguous immediately upon landing. It took some time after an expected radio blackout to restore communications with the spacecraft and determine its fate some 239,000 miles from Earth.

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When contact was finally renewed, the signal was faint, confirming that the lander had landed, but leaving mission control not immediately sure about the exact status and location of the vehicle, company officials said during a webcast of the event on Thursday evening.

The Odysseus lunar lander is captured in a photo with Earth on its way to the Moon on February 16, 2024. Xinhua/Shutterstock

Crane said he believes the payloads aboard 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 Friday, erasing all of their gains in Friday's market session after the company said its lunar lander had capsized.

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