American spacecraft Odyssey crashes while landing on the Moon: what happened

By SSPDailyMar 17, 2024 15:01 PMPersonal Development
American spacecraft Odyssey crashes while landing on the Moon
American spacecraft Odyssey crashes while landing on the Moon. Source:

The Odyssey spacecraft of the American private company Intuitive Machines landed on the Moon on the night of February 23 but failed to maintain its vertical position and rolled over on its side. Nevertheless, its mission continues. SSPDaily tells about it.

This was announced at a special press conference by Intuitive Machines CEO and co-founder Stephen Altemus.

According to him, the historic 14-foot (4.3 meters) tall Odyssey spacecraft, which delivered six NASA scientific instruments and six private payloads to the moon, is still performing its functions even in this position.

How the flight started

Odyssey was launched on February 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, arriving in lunar orbit six days later. As the landing time approached, Odyssey's operators realized that its laser rangefinders were not working properly.

They implemented a workaround to obtain the necessary altitude and velocity data by activating a NASA experimental instrument aboard Odyssey to control the descent.

The team postponed the scheduled landing for two hours to make the necessary software corrections. In the end, the spacecraft was able to land 190 miles (300 kilometers) from the lunar south pole. This area is challenging to land, but is considered promising for future lunar missions as it is likely to be rich in frozen water.

"It was a pretty spicy seven-day mission to get to the moon," Altemus said at the briefing.

Why the accident happened

At the briefing, representatives of Intuitive Machines said that Odyssey did not land vertically as planned. During the descent, the vehicle was supposed to move at a speed of approximately 3.2 km/h in the vertical direction and 0 mph in the horizontal direction. However, the data show that it actually moved at about 10 km/h vertically and 3.2 km/h horizontally, Altemus said.

He proposed a theory about what happened: perhaps when Odyssey descended at a speed that was slightly different from the predicted one, one of the six landing legs of the vehicle caught on a crevasse or other part of the lunar terrain.

"We could have broken that landing gear and gently tipped over," the co-founder of Intuitive Machines said.

More information is needed to assess the situation. Details may be provided by one of the payloads on board Odyssey - the EagleCam camera created by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University - which was supposed to separate from the vehicle and photograph the landing from the lunar surface.

However, the EagleCam remained on board due to navigation difficulties. The team plans to deploy it in the near future, hoping to get some good pictures of Odyssey on the surface to find out its location.

What's next

According to Stephen Altemus, EagleCam and other instruments and critical subsystems of Odyssey appear to be working.

"We have the sun falling on the solar panels and charging them. We are powering the spacecraft and we are 100% charged. It's fantastic," he says.

Data indicates that Odyssey has come down within one to two miles of its target landing zone, a patch of relatively flat ground near a crater called Malapert A. The exact location of the landing may become apparent soon: if all goes according to plan, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will take photos of the area from above this weekend.

The mission team will collect and transmit as much data as possible to Earth, but the lander's electronics were not designed to survive the harsh cold of a lunar night, so its days are numbered.

"We know that at this landing site, the sun will go beyond our solar arrays in any configuration in about nine days. At best, we expect another nine to ten days," Intuitive Machines CTO Tim Crain said at a briefing.

As a reminder, on August 19, 2023, the Roscosmos Luna 25 spacecraft crashed while trying to land near the South Pole of the Earth's natural satellite. The crash resulted in a 10-meter-wide crater on the Moon.

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