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Odysseus lander ‘caught a foot’ on moon’s surface, tipped on its side

A private U.S. lunar lander tilted over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon's south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Uncrewed vessel on Thursday made first U.S. lunar landing in half a century

1st U.S. spacecraft lands on the moon in a half-century

1 day ago

Duration 2:13

The privately owned Odysseus lander has touched down on the moon — the first U.S. spacecraft since the Apollo missions in the 1970s. The NASA-led mission also has a piece of Canadian technology on board known as the Eagle Cam, which helped the spacecraft land.

A private U.S. lunar lander tilted over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon's south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines, the company that built the six-footed lander, initially said it was upright. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday that the lander "caught a foot in the surface and tipped" and landed on its side, and, quite possibly, is leaning against a rock. He said the lander had come in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

"So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we're tipped over," he said.

Some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to communicate and get the right data, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 4.3-metre lander to facilitate communications amid the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few kilometres of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 300 kilometres from the south pole. NASA, which led the missions, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

A person holds a miniature model spacecraft while sitting at a table.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday's touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. The mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million US for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

"Serendipity is absolutely the right word," mission director Tim Crain said.

Now, get a live update on <a href="https://twitter.com/Int_Machines?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@Int_Machines</a>' historic Feb. 22 Moon landing carrying NASA science. <a href="https://t.co/UBBPevQ0ia">https://t.co/UBBPevQ0ia</a>

&mdash;@NASA

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials said.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus's landing. But the EagleCam, made by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

WATCH | The lunar lander is deployed:

See the moment the lunar lander is deployed

9 days ago

Duration 0:25

The Intuitive Machines-made lander successfully detached from SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket's second stage and is now moon-bound.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly eight metres away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us," Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just a week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander, before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

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Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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