Intuitive Machines: American company is trying to land on the moon

  • By Jonathan Amos
  • Science reporter

image source, Intuitive machines

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Odysseus successfully entered lunar orbit on Wednesday

Texan company Intuitive Machines (IM) will try to put a spacecraft on the moon in the coming hours.

If the company succeeds, it will be the first commercial venture to achieve this feat.

It will also mark the first US soft landing on the lunar surface since the Apollo era half a century ago.

The United States Space Agency (NASA) has contracted IM to transport scientific instruments to the South Pole of the Moon.

The target landing site was a cratered terrain next to a 5 km high mountain complex known as Malabert. The region is one of the locations on a short list of places to send astronauts later this decade as part of NASA's Artemis program.

The tools should give planners some new insights into what surface conditions will look like.

Controllers in Intuitive machines They are aiming for a touchdown at 23:24 GMT, although the company has moved this time back and forth in recent hours.

“Six NASA payloads and six commercial payloads are expected to operate on the lunar surface for seven days before sunset at our landing site at Malabert A Crater at the moon's south pole, completing the IM-1 mission. , we will be performing some exciting experiments and technical demonstrations,” the company's space agency said. said Trent Martin, vice president of systems.

image source, Intuitive machines

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Artwork: The successful soft landing is a first for a private company

IM's attempt follows another private concern, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, which launched to the moon in early January but failed to even attempt a landing due to technical problems.

The Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) had better luck at the end of the month, reaching the surface safely on January 19, although it lost several days of operations due to an awkward landing that pushed its solar array away from the Sun.

IM's 675 kg Odysseus lander is about the size of an old British telephone box. It was launched from Earth on February 15 and captured in lunar orbit on Wednesday this week.

Controllers will monitor the spacecraft's descent at the company's headquarters in Houston, but it will be Odysseus who will make the key decisions on the approach.

Initially at an altitude of 100 km, Odysseus will use its guidance system to bring it to a point about 30 km above the designated landing site and then descend straight down. The large engine on board is expected to descend only one meter per second at the moment of landing.

If the mission lands safely, it will land further south in an activated manner. The Indian Space Organization (ISRO) has now achieved this feat, thanks to its historic Chandrayaan-3 Vikram lander, which settled on the lunar surface at 69 degrees south in August last year.

IM's target is 80 degrees south, exactly 300 km from the South Pole.

image source, Intuitive machines

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Odysseus captured this image of the 50 km wide Belkovich K Crater after inserting it into orbit.

“With the commercial industry comes a competitive environment, which means that forward investments will ultimately be available at very low cost,” explained Susan Lederer, NASA's CLPS program scientist.

“Instead of one (NASA) mission a decade, it allows for 10 commercial missions to the Moon in a decade; instead of four or five instruments in that decade, it's more like four to five dozen instruments.”

NASA's six instruments are attached to Odysseus by payloads from six other IM customers.

It also includes a student camera system from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University that will be deployed from Odysseus when it is 30m above the lunar surface. The camera will attempt to take selfies as the spacecraft touches down.

American artist Jeff Koons attached a box of 125 small stainless steel balls to the side of the lander to represent the different phases of the moon in a month.

Also, the International Lunar Observing Association's telescope will take pictures of the Milky Way Galaxy. The Moon is an ideal location for astronomical research because it is unaffected by the disturbing effects of Earth, such as a dim atmosphere and radio interference.

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Apollo astronauts are constantly at war with lunar dust

NASA's payloads will focus on obtaining useful information for future human exploration. Odysseus has innovative technologies to aid in precise navigation and to know how much thrust is available to a craft's propellers.

There will also be studies of lunar dust, where the Apollo astronauts found serious problems such as corrosion and clogging of their equipment.

Historically, about half of all soft landings on the Moon have been successful.

The same is true in the modern age, this century that began with China's Chang'e-3 mission in 2013. It worked, but six out of 10 attempts ended in failure.

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