April 17, 2024

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The company says the Odysseus lunar lander flipped on its side during landing

The company says the Odysseus lunar lander flipped on its side during landing

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander lands faster than expected and moves slightly to one side at… The moment of landing On Thursday, the spacecraft apparently found a footpad on the moon's surface and turned on its side, officials said on Friday.

Telemetry indicates that the top of the spacecraft may be resting on a rock or that the lander may tip over on sloping terrain. But Steve Altemus, CEO and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, said Odysseus could still extract energy from the sun and send engineering and scientific data back to Earth.

Engineers are now in the process of downloading the data and hope to download stored images as early as this weekend to show the orientation of the 14-foot-tall spacecraft.

“We're downloading and requesting data from the spacecraft's buffers and trying to get images of the surface because I know everyone is hungry for those images,” Altimus said.

Steve Altemus, CEO and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, uses a model of the company's Odysseus lunar lander to illustrate how the spacecraft would likely flip during Thursday's landing. Based on telemetry, it appears that the top of the lander may be resting on a rock (small blue pattern). It is also possible for the spacecraft to flip over on steep terrain or even for one of its foot pads to be in a crack.


Meanwhile, all active lander instruments, provided by NASA and commercial customers, face away from the lunar surface and should be able to return data as planned. But it will likely take longer than expected because some of the spacecraft's tilted antennas are not facing Earth.

And there is not much time. Regardless of the solstice, the Sun will dip below the horizon at the landing site in just over one week, ending power generation by the probe's solar cells. That was always in the cards.

The spacecraft was not designed to withstand the extremely low temperatures of the lunar night, and while flight controllers will try to reconnect with the probe when the sun rises again, they are not expecting Odysseus to answer.

“Three major achievements”

All that said, Joel Kearns, NASA's deputy associate administrator for exploration, praised the Intuitive Machines rover for its erratic but still successful landing.

“Let me congratulate Intuitive Machines on three major accomplishments,” he said. “The first is for the United States to be the first successful soft landing on the moon since 1972. The second is to be the first commercial non-governmental organization to actually land safely.

“The third is that there is a landing point at 80 degrees south latitude, which is much closer to the lunar south pole than any previous American robotic or human explorers.”

This is important for NASA, which plans to send Artemis astronauts to the Antarctic region in the next few years to search for possible ice deposits while establishing a long-term presence on the moon.

On Saturday, President Joe Biden commented on this achievement in a message statement Who congratulated NASA and the Intuitive Machines team.

“America does difficult things,” the statement read. “We are rising to the great scientific challenges of our time. There is nothing beyond our power when we work together.”

Odysseus was funded in part through NASA's Lunar Services Commercial Payloads Program, which was designed to encourage private industry to develop transportation capabilities that the agency could then use to transport payloads to the Moon.

The Odysseus lunar lander seen during pre-launch processing.

Intuitive machines

NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to transport six payloads to the Moon aboard the ship Odysseus.

It was launched on February 15 by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocketOdysseus entered orbit around the moon on Wednesday. Flight controllers then raised the orbit slightly to correct a minor targeting error and were preparing for landing when they encountered problems with the sensor package needed to help fine-tune the course until landing.

Fortunately for intuitive machines, one of NASA's six payloads aboard Odysseus was intended to test a different type of navigation sensor, an instrument known as NDL, which stands for Navigation System Doppler Lidar.

The NDL system works like radar but picks up reflected laser light instead of radio waves to accurately measure the vehicle's speed, direction and altitude.

Odysseus was ordered to conduct an additional orbit around the Moon while engineers scrambled to write and test software patches to integrate NASA's system into the lander's navigation algorithms.

“That's what allowed them to succeed,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CBS News Thursday evening. “It was NASA's payload that saved the day. (But) don't take anything away from Odysseus and Intuitive Machines, because this is the first commercial lander capable of accomplishing this feat.”

As Odysseus approaches his landing site, he deviates from the horizontal to the vertical direction until the final landing is reached. The flight plan called for the spacecraft to land at a purely vertical speed of only 2 mph, which is roughly a moderate cruise speed.

However, due to the unexpected lateral velocity, engineers believe that one of the lander's six footpegs either hit a rock or got stuck in a crevice, causing the spacecraft to flip over.

Based on the telemetry, “it should be fairly high above the surface horizontally, which is why we think it's on a rock or the foot is in a crack or something to hold it in that position,” Altimus said.

Artistic rendering of Odysseus landing in the expected vertical direction after landing. Engineers say the spacecraft actually flipped over during landing, leaving it resting on its side.

Intuitive machines

The revelation that Odysseus flipped over upon landing came as a surprise after a nightly update from Intuitive Machines saying telemetry indicated the spacecraft was facing upright. This conclusion is based on “outdated data,” Altimus said on Friday.

Further analysis of the remaining fuel and data from inertial measurement units that indicate the direction of gravity showed that the spacecraft was, in fact, resting on its side.

The landing highlighted the dangers faced by any robotic spacecraft attempting to land on unknown terrain, and the challenge of autonomously navigating around rocks and other obstacles that cannot be seen from orbit.

a Japanese lunar probe The rover flipped over on landing last month, limiting its ability to complete its planned science agenda. Both Altemus and Tim Crain, Intuitive's chief technology officer, were optimistic that Odysseus could still achieve most of its goals.

But at least one hoped-for goal will not be achieved.

An experimental camera system built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which was designed to be launched before landing to capture images of the lander during its final descent, was not deployed as planned due to software limitations related to a guidance system issue.

The “EagleCam” beam would be ejected later, launched dozens of feet to one side, Altimus said. If all goes well, the cameras will show Odysseus resting on his side, giving engineers — and the public — the best available views of the spacecraft's direction.

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