April 24, 2024

The failed lunar lander isn’t dead yet: NASA plans to extend the $118 million Odysseus mission into “lunar night” with hopes of extracting more data — but the two-week period could kill the craft

Scientists and private contractors plan to extend the Odysseus probe’s mission into a frigid “lunar night” — betting against the odds that the Moon’s dark phase below -300 degrees Fahrenheit won’t kill the spacecraft.

The announcement came during a mission update on Wednesday, which included stunning fisheye images of the NASA-funded craft’s historic lunar landing.

Odysseus will soon go dark during a two-week lunar night, said NASA-contractor Intuitive Machines, losing access to solar power and experiencing chills that could critically degrade not only the probe’s batteries but also its internal hardware.

Described by the CEO of Intuitive Machines as a successful ‘scout and pilot mission’, the $118 million Odysseus made a rocky landing that alarmed mission control, breaking off chunks of its landing gear on impact with the Earth’s surface. moon.

But as one of NASA’s top scientists explained during today’s live event, broadcast from the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Odysseus is a “grumpy guy.”

The lander, which made the first “soft landing” of a US spacecraft on the Moon in 50 years, has since transmitted 350 megabytes of scientific and technical data back to Earth.

NASA scientists and private contractor Intuitive Machines plan to extend the Odysseus probe's lunar mission into a cold

NASA scientists and private contractor Intuitive Machines plan to extend the Odysseus probe’s lunar mission into a cold “lunar night” that could kill the craft. Described as an ‘exploration’ mission, the craft initially made a rocky ‘soft’ landing (above) that alarmed mission control.

The chilly new announcement came during a mission update on Wednesday, which included stunning fisheye images of the historic craft's landing on the lunar surface (above).

The chilly new announcement came during a mission update on Wednesday, which included stunning fisheye images of the historic craft’s landing on the lunar surface (above).

Intuitive Machines CEO and co-founder Steve Altemus described the goals of Odysseus, or ‘Odie’ for short, as essentially testing new systems for lunar travel and exploring new, more challenging lunar landing sites, ahead of planned of NASA to return humans to the moon by 2025.

“We got this,” Altemus said at the live-streamed press event.

“What we did with this mission,” Altemus continued, “was fundamentally change the economics of landing on the Moon.”

The CEO described his company’s goals with the $118 million NASA-funded lunar project as “trying to create a business that is a national asset for the United States.”

Intuitive Machines CEO described Odysseus' goals as essentially testing new systems for lunar travel and exploring new, more challenging lunar landing sites ahead of NASA's plans to return humans to the Moon in 2025: 'We got this'

Intuitive Machines CEO described Odysseus’ goals as essentially testing new systems for lunar travel and exploring new, more challenging lunar landing sites ahead of NASA’s plans to return humans to the Moon in 2025: ‘We got this’

The Odysseus was partly funded by NASA, which paid to put scientific equipment on board, but also carried other objects – including 125 miniature sculptures by pop artist Jeff Koons.

The Odysseus was partly funded by NASA, which paid to put scientific equipment on board, but also carried other objects – including 125 miniature sculptures by pop artist Jeff Koons.

The Odysseus spacecraft — launched Feb. 15 aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida — was tasked with delivering six NASA science instruments to a location near the moon’s south pole.

Altemus said that despite some setbacks, all six payloads eventually became operational, providing navigation guidance and propulsion data, along with other key measurements needed for a complete “mission reconstruction” to complete their exploration.

The Odysseus mission, dubbed IM-1, was funded as part of the U.S. space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative and its Artemis campaign to return American astronauts to the Moon.

Joel Kearns, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, took the lead in explaining how challenging Odie’s mission was and why the spacecraft broke its landing gear during landing.

“This is a very complex undertaking,” Kearns said.

“We get questions periodically that, since Americans landed on the Moon in the 1960s, and we haven’t been back for a long time, ‘Why is it really so hard?’

“To get to the surface of the Moon, since there is no air on the Moon,” the NASA administrator explained, “you actually have to fly a rocket from the rapid speed of being in orbit to being out of speed at a pre- -determined on the surface at a predetermined elevation.’

With no atmosphere to provide friction or drag, let alone a parachute landing, the Odysseus had to invert its own thrusters and mathematically calculate its deceleration before impact.

“You actually have to bring with you in the rocket all the fuel you need to slow down,” Kearns said, fuel that constantly changes the mass of the spacecraft as it burns.

“A soft landing on the Moon is a huge achievement,” he said.

Odysseus touched down at a latitude of about 80 degrees south, near the Moon’s South Pole, recording a wealth of data as it went – ​​critical information that will one day help lead more advanced robotic and human missions to the Moon.

But the spacecraft landed a short distance away and at a higher altitude than its intended target, the Malapert A crater, 300 kilometers from the Moon’s south pole.

The result, on February 22, 2024, was an impact with the lunar surface at a speed greater than intended.

Above, Tim Crain, chief technology officer and co-founder of NASA contractor Intuitive Machines, illustrates details about the 'Odie' probe's landing and how it rests against a rocky incline on the moon's surface.

The lunar module is now at a 30-degree angle, Crain and others said

Above, Tim Crain, chief technology officer and co-founder of NASA contractor Intuitive Machines, illustrates details about the ‘Odie’ probe’s landing and how it now rests on a rocky incline on the moon’s surface. The lander is now at a 30-degree angle, Crain and others said

Two NASA scientists and two chief executives of Intuitive Machines spoke at today's event

Two NASA scientists and two chief executives of Intuitive Machines spoke at today’s event

Intuitive Machines chief technology officer Tim Crain praised his company’s small but “efficient” team. “Every person was essential,” Crain said.

‘It really was all hands on deck. Let’s maximize the time we have available on this asset while we can,”

“When I arrived at this briefing,” Crain noted, “we had brought back more than 350 megabytes of scientific and engineering data on this mission.”

The project scientist responsible for NASA’s CLPS, astrophysicist and planetary scientist Sue Lederer, gave more details about the quality and usefulness of this data.

Odie's ROLSES sensor, short for

Odie’s ROLSES sensor, short for “radio spectrometer for measuring electron density,” said NASA planetary scientist Sue Lederer, not only “detected radio noise frequencies from Earth,” but helped provide data consistent with the theory of a ‘Silent Sun’ as a ‘bonus’

Lederer noted that, in addition to its primary mission of collecting data for future Moon landings, Odie’s equipment helped contribute to some basic “bonus science” about our solar system.

The ROLSES sensor, short for “radio spectrometer for measuring electron density,” she said, not only “detected radio noise frequencies from Earth” but helped provide data consistent with the theory of a “radio silent Sun.”

But even more bonus science is in store for Odysseus, as its mission control handlers at NASA and Intuitive Machines plan to see if they can restart the device after it goes dark amid the approaching two-week lunar night.

The CEO of Intuitive Machines said that within hours, his team would “put Odie to bed for the cold moon night,” which lasts half the moon’s month-long rotation cycle.

The company’s CFO Crain explained that the probe was not expressly designed to withstand temperatures of potentially -387 degrees Fahrenheit during a lunar night, and its electronics could “basically break down under thermal stress.”

Crain pointed out that the internal chemistry of the lunar module’s batteries may also not survive the cold night, potentially deforming as they freeze.

But NASA’s Sue Lederer said Odysseus surprised the team with his resilience and that she wouldn’t bet against the “grumpy little guy.”

Intuitive CEO Altemus expects more data collection to be attempted “within a few weeks.”

“No eulogy” is planned for Odie for now, he said. The team’s rationale for achieving these goals, as he said, was ‘Why not try?’

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