Monday, May 20, 2024

Odysseus Lander Is on the Moon – Sky & Telescope

AstronomyOdysseus Lander Is on the Moon - Sky & Telescope


Updates:

February 29, 2024: Intuitive Machines held one more press conference for the IM-1 mission yesterday, and stated that they’re still receiving data from science payloads aboard the Odysseus lander. The plan now is to power down systems as the Sun sets over Malapert A Crater, for a possible wake-up for the lander at sunrise in mid-March. Interestingly, the lander seems to have come to rest at a 30 degree angle, not tipped over at fully horizontal as was originally thought. A surface image released yesterday by the team bears this out:

February 26, 2024: Intuitive Machines released a blurry surface image snapped by the Odysseus Nova-C lander at Malapert A Crater today. Meanwhile, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) snapped an image of the lander, as seen from its vantage point in low lunar orbit.

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this view of the Nova-C landing site. The arrow indicates the Nova-C lander, also called Odysseus. The image width is 973 meters.

NASA / GSFC / Arizona State University

February 24, 2024: NASA and Intuitive Machines held a press conference yesterday, stating that, while Odysseus did indeed land on the Moon and controllers are receiving telemetry, the lander appears to be perched on its side. Systems seem to be receiving power through the lander’s solar panels, and it appears that the EagleCAM cubesat did not deploy prior to landing.

One image was released yesterday, showing Schomberger Crater prior to landing, from about 6 miles (10 kilometers) above:

Schomberger
Schomberger Crater, imaged from Odysseus shortly before landing.
Intuitive Machines

The original story, posted February 22nd, appears below.


After a one-week journey, Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander, now called Odysseus lander (and nicknamed “Odie”), has arrived at Malapert A Crater in the lunar south pole region. This touchdown marks NASA’s first soft-landing on the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972 as well as the first successful landing of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program (CLPS). Touchdown occurred at 6:23 p.m. EST / 23:23 UT. The landing was delayed one orbit due to problems with the lander’s laser rangefinders, forcing engineers to upload a software patch to use NASA’s NDL (Navigation Doppler LIDAR) systems for primary navigation.

Mission Control
Cheers outside of Intuitive Machines mission control. Intuitive Machines

After a tense few minutes, mission controllers announced that they had received a faint but discernable signal from the spacecraft’s high gain antenna, confirming that Odysseus had indeed landed.

This mission also marks a first for SpaceX, which has finally fielded a soft-lander to another world. Odysseus launched from the Kennedy Space Center aboard a Falcon 9 rocket just last week, on February 15th. The company that built Odysseus, Intuitive Machines, is also now the first to successfully deliver a commercially developed lander to the Moon. The mission is part of NASA’s Artemis initiative to return humans to the Moon.

The crater is named after 17th century Belgian astronomer Charles Malapert. Located at latitude 85 degrees south, this also represents the closest landing to a lunar pole to date, besting Chandrayaan 3’s record set last year.

Booster
The Falcon second stage booster is seen receding in the distance after spacecraft separation.
Intuitive Machines

The journey from Earth to the Moon went off by the numbers. IM-1 separated from the Falcon 9 upper stage 48 minutes after launch. Cameras on the lander, designed by Canadensys Aerospace, gave us some amazing views over the past week of separation from the Falcon upper stage, the receding Earth, and the approach to the Moon.

Australia
Onboard cameras captured this view of Australia and the typhoon Lincoln.
Intuitive Machines

A crucial test of the spacecraft’s new 3D-printed engines occurred about 18 hours after launch on February 16th, with a 21-second, full-thrust commissioning burn. This first test of the engines in space went off without a hitch. A first trajectory correction maneuver (TCM), which put the mission en route to the Moon, occurred on February 18th, followed by a second TCM on February 20th. The second burn was precise enough that a third optional burn was not needed.

Crater
A view of Bel’kovich K Crater from Odysseus on February 21st, one day before landing.
Intuitive Machines

Next, a 408-second burn occurred on February 21st, placing Odysseus in a 92-kilometer-high orbit around the Moon. The long burn for final approach started about 13 minutes prior to landing. Instead of using NASA’s Deep Space Network, Intuitive Machines tracked Odysseus throughout its landing using the company’s own Lunar Data Network.

What’s Onboard Odie

Odysseus carries a dozen payloads, consisting of experiments, an art installation, a memorial, and six NASA science experiments.

The six NASA payloads include communications and navigation as well as radio-frequency experiments to study electrons just above the lunar surface (lofted there by sunlight and chemistry). Also onboard is a laser retro-reflector, which NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will be able to ping from low lunar orbit. One experiment (the Radio Frequency Mass Gauge), which is incorporated into the lander itself, will seek to test a new technology to measure the amount of liquid methane and oxygen remaining in the fuel tanks, a technology demonstration that will be important for future missions.

Odysseus also carries the ILO-X observatory, built by the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA), which is mounted atop the lander. This telescope is a precursor to the full-scale observatory that ILOA wants to send to nearby Malapert Massif on a future mission. As a technology demonstrator, ILO-X should provide unforgettable views of the Milky Way, as well as the Earth perched low over the lunar horizon.

Landing
This graphic shows the landing timeline for Odysseus (times reflect the original schedule for landing).
Intuitive Machines

Embry-Riddle’s EagleCAM should have also deployed just before landing, to give us another first: a remote view of a spacecraft as it descends towards the surface of another world.

Now, the solar-powered Odysseus lander has a busy week ahead of it on the lunar surface, before falling silent at the fall of lunar night around the beginning of March.

After the success of IM-1, Intuitive Machines will send another Nova-C lander moonward no earlier than June 2024, on the IM-2 mission. Aboard will be NASA’s Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment (PRIME-1) as well as The Regolith and Ice Drill for Exploring New Terrain (TRIDENT), which features a drill 1 meter (3 foot) long.

Landing site
This view from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows the Malapert A Crater landing site.
USGS / LROC Quickmap

We’ll update this post as more news comes out of the project. If skies are clear, be sure to check out the waxing gibbous Moon tonight, now the home to humanity’s latest robotic emissary.



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