The Odysseus lunar probe put “to sleep”

“Success” is there but it is already time to end the adventure

The Odysseus lunar probe put “to sleep”

“Success” is there but it is already time to end the adventure. The American probe Odysseus, on the Moon for almost a week, will be paused very soon, at the end of its main mission, announced Wednesday, February 28, Intuitive Machines, the American company that developed it on behalf from NASA

Odysseus became the first private lander to land on the Moon, and the first American craft to do so since the end of the Apollo program in 1972. However, it found itself tilted on the lunar surface after a turbulent descent. Despite this, “we received data from all cargoes, private and from NASA,” emphasized Steve Altemus, CEO and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, during a press conference. “The mission we have carried out has been a great success so far. »

The boss even announced a surprise: Intuitive Machines plans to try to restart Odysseus “in two or three weeks”, after the passage of the lunar night. However, it is very uncertain whether the device, particularly its batteries, will survive the freezing cold about to set in. For the moment, the lander will be “mothballed,” said Steve Altemus.

The machine is powered by its solar panels, and therefore had to be turned off during the lunar night from the start. Contact was to be lost during the few hours after the press conference.

In inclined position

An impressive photo released Wednesday illustrates the challenges faced: it shows at least one of the probe's six legs broken at the time of landing, while the still-fired engine kicks up projections of lunar dust.

A failure in the lander's navigation system had complicated its final descent. It approached the ground too quickly, with residual horizontal movement that was not expected, and therefore “skidded” on the surface, the CEO explained. Once placed, it tipped over.

Because Odysseus is located on a slight slope, and possibly leaning on one of its tanks on one side, it is tilted at about 30 degrees, according to Intuitive Machines. Another image, on which we can see a tip of the probe and the black of a nearby crater, confirmed this position. A small camera-equipped craft called EagleCam, developed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautics University, was ejected from the moon to try to take a picture of its exterior, but was unable to provide the long-awaited shot.

This mission, although private, was largely set up thanks to funding from NASA, which had commissioned Intuitive Machines to transport six scientific instruments to the Moon – a contract worth 118 million dollars (approximately 109 million euros).

“Odysseus is a success from NASA’s point of view,” Bill Nelson, the head of the American space agency, told the press on Wednesday. Scientists have already started examining radio waves recorded from Earth, using one of the instruments. Another was unable to analyze the amount of dust projected during the descent as planned, but was still able to be lit once on the ground.

Develop a lunar economy

Odysseus is the probe that landed furthest south on the Moon. NASA wants to explore this region before sending its astronauts there as part of its Artemis missions. The lunar South Pole is of particular interest to major powers because it could contain large quantities of water in the form of ice. This water could potentially be harnessed to make fuel for spacecraft, or support the needs of astronauts on site.

Intuitive Machines has two more lunar missions planned this year. All are part of NASA's new CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program, which has ordered several companies to transport its scientific equipment, in order to be able to make the trip more often and for less money than by developing scientific equipment itself. vehicles to do so. The American space agency also intends to stimulate the development of a lunar economy, capable of supporting a sustainable human presence on the Moon – one of the goals of the Artemis program.

More than 50 years after Apollo, “people have asked,” why landing on the Moon is “so hard,” Steve Altemus reported. He noted several differences between past and current missions: limited funding, a tight schedule, and landing much further from the equator.

“We have fundamentally transformed the economic constraints of a moon landing,” said the CEO of this young company, founded in 2013. “We have opened the door to a robust and thriving lunar economy in the future,” he said. he promised.