Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Odysseus spacecraft is the first private mission to land on the moon -Dlight News

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander has touched down on the moon. This is the first time that a private firm has landed a spacecraft on the lunar surface, a welcome success after a recent string of high-profile landing failures by other companies.

The Odysseus craft launched for this flight, called the IM-1 mission, atop a Falcon 9 rocket on 14 February. It arrived in lunar orbit on 21 February before landing near the south pole of the moon on 22 February.

The live feed from mission control was tense, as the planned landing time slipped by with no communication from the lander. Eventually, several minutes after Odysseus was supposed to land, mission director Tim Crain in Intuitive Machines’ mission control said, “We’re picking up a signal – it’s faint, but it’s there.”

The signal showed that the spacecraft had touched down on the moon, but the state of the craft is still unknown. Nevertheless, the landing was a success. “I know this was a nail-biter but we are on the surface,” said Intuitive Machines CEO Stephen Altemus. “Welcome to the moon.”

Before this landing, three other companies attempted to send landers to the moon. SpaceIL’s Beresheet craft launched in 2019 and ispace’s Hakuto-R mission launched in 2022, but each of them crash-landed and was wrecked.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander didn’t even make it that far after its January launch – a fuel leak forced its operators to return it to Earth to burn up in the atmosphere. With the success of IM-1, Intuitive Machines joins an elite club – only the national space agencies of the Soviet Union, the US, China, India and Japan have successfully landed on the moon before.

Now that it has landed safely, the second part of the IM-1 mission can begin. Odysseus carried six NASA payloads and six commercial payloads with it to the moon. Some of these, such as devices to assist with the landing and a camera to take photographs of the landing, have already served their purpose. A few have succeeded just by making it to the moon – perhaps most notably a collection of 125 tiny sculptures by artist Jeff Koons. Others, including instruments to measure how the environment around the moon affects its surface, begin their missions now.

The IM-1 mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, through which government contracts are awarded to private companies with the aim of building space flight capabilities through public-private partnerships. Three more lunar landings are planned through CLPS in 2024, one of which is Intuitive Machines’ mission to harvest water ice from the south pole of the moon.

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