Tipped-over Odysseus moon lander, spotted by lunar orbiter, sends back pictures

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has spotted the tipped-over Odysseus lander on the surface of the moon, officials said Monday, confirming it touched down less than a mile from its planned landing site near the moon’s south pole.

Odysseus builder Intuitive Machines of Houston posted a picture captured by the lander during its final descent, along with a blurry shot apparently taken after touchdown, showing the rock-strewn surface immediately around the landing site.

“Odysseus continues to communicate with flight controllers in Nova Control from the lunar surface,” Intuitive Machines said on its website.

“After understanding the end-to-end communication requirements, Odysseus sent images from the lunar surface of its vertical descent to its Malapert A landing site, representing the furthest south any vehicle has been able to land on the moon and establish communication with ground controllers.”

Images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera confirmed Odysseus touched down at 80.13 degrees south latitude and 1.44 east longitude at an elevation of 1.6 miles, putting it within 5,000 feet of the landing site near a crater known as Malapert A.

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter captured a photograph of the Odysseus lander on the moon’s surface, a tiny dot casting a distinct shadow on the cratered terrain near the moon’s south pole.

NASA/Intuitive Machines

“After traveling more than 600,000 miles, Odysseus landed within (nine tenths of a mile) of its intended Malapert A landing site,” the company posted.

A second photograph showed the lunar terrain below Odysseus as the spacecraft descended straight down toward the moon, its fixed landing legs poised for touchdown.

Odysseus was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 15 and landed at 6:24 p.m. EST last Thursday, becoming the first privately build spacecraft to successfully touch down on the moon and the first U.S. spacecraft of any kind to accomplish that feat in more than 50 years.

Moon Landing
This image provided by Intuitive Machines shows its Odysseus lunar lander over the near side of the moon following lunar orbit insertion, Feb. 21, 2024.

Intuitive Machines via AP

But the spacecraft was moving to one side slightly at the moment of touchdown. One of its six landing legs apparently dug in, or got caught on a rock or stuck in a crevice, causing the 14-foot-tall Odysseus to topple over on its side.

While the lander survived touchdown, antennas were not properly aimed at Earth and data transmission has been slower than expected. In any case, the spacecraft will only survive a few more days before the sun sets at the landing site, ending its ability to generate solar power.

Japan’s moon lander survives lunar night

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, meanwhile, reported Monday that flight controllers had managed to reestablish contact with their SLIM lunar lander, which touched down on the moon Jan. 19 and promptly tipped over on its nose. One of the probe’s two engines malfunctioned shortly before touchdown, producing an unbalanced thrust that caused it to hit the surface while still moving forward.

Engineers did not expect the solar-powered spacecraft to survive the lunar night, but flight controllers reported they were able to re-contact the lander over the weekend.

“SLIM successfully survived the night on the lunar surface while maintaining communication capabilities!” the space agency reported. “Last night, as it was still midday and the temperature of the communication equipment was extremely high, communication was terminated after only a short period of time.

“From now on, preparations will be made so that observations can be resumed once the temperature has cooled sufficiently.”

A photo from one of SLIM’s navigation cameras was posted on X showing the surrounding landscape.

By 111 Tech

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