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U.S. moon lander Odysseus goes dormant a week after lopsided landing


Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander during its landing at the Malapert A site on the moon, February 22, 2024. /CFP
Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander during its landing at the Malapert A site on the moon, February 22, 2024. /CFP

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander during its landing at the Malapert A site on the moon, February 22, 2024. /CFP

Odysseus, the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon in half a century, lost power and went dormant on Thursday as it entered a frigid lunar night, ending its core mission after a lopsided touchdown one week ago that hindered its operations and scientific goals.

Intuitive Machines, the Texas-based aerospace company that NASA paid $118 million to build and fly Odysseus, said its ground control team had received a final "farewell transmission" from the spacecraft before it went dark on the moon's south pole region.

"Goodnight, Odie. We hope to hear from you again," Intuitive said in an online update, referring to the spacecraft by the nickname its engineers had affectionately adopted for a lander they said proved to be more robust than expected.

Earlier in the day, Intuitive said its teams would program Odysseus to "phone home" to the company's ground control center Houston if and when the spacecraft receives enough solar power to reawaken in three weeks with the next sunrise over its landing site.

More lunar landing planned

In its final descent, Odysseus stumbled to an off-kilter landing that left it leaning sharply to one side after a series of technical problems. The lander's rough touchdown impeded its functions once it arrived. NASA and the lander's commercial participants could communicate with their instruments but failed to get all the data they wanted.

Studies on galactic observations, for instance, "will not be conducted, nor will an image of the galaxy be obtained," said Steve Durst, who led a team at the Hawaii-based International Lunar Observatory Association that put a dual-camera system on board Odysseus to capture images of the Milky Way Galaxy from the lunar surface.

Still, Durst said: "We're delighted that our country has finally touched the moon again – even though a little bit stumbling – but we're back. And that's significant."

And although other experiments were disappointing – a camera developed by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University never deployed in space as intended – some worked fine.

Lonestar Data Holdings, a Houston-based startup developing space-based data centers, had a small server aboard the lander to test data transmission between Earth and the moon.

"We got everything we needed out of the mission, and we're incredibly happy," Lonestar chief executive Chris Stott said. Lonestar has already booked space on the next Intuitive Machines flight this year.

That mission, called IM-2, is sold out, and a third is planned. Intuitive chief executive Steve Altemus said Wednesday that since the landing, the European Space Agency had expressed interest in flying on one of his company's missions.

Altemus said that non-lethal mistakes had illustrated an array of improvements to make on IM-2. The most egregious mistake on the mission was forgetting to turn off a safety switch that prevented the landing laser from working; Altemus said the IM-1 team had gotten better at anticipating potential problems and workarounds.

"As we went through the mission, we got further and further ahead thinking about the possible failures, and what could get us, and what we had to fix in that certain time frame," he said.

As for the equipment, "When I think of major redesigns, I'm thinking about adding cameras, and adding antennas, things like that," he added.

Source(s): Reuters
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