Moon landing: Odysseus spacecraft mission to be cut short after sideways touchdown

Mission will end after five days instead of the planned seven to 10 days, US company Intuitive Machines says

The Odysseus spacecraft passes over the near side of the Moon. Photo: Intuitive Machines
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Commercial US spaceship Odysseus will have its lifespan cut short after its sideways touchdown on Friday, the company behind the mission said.

The vessel, which was to operate on the Moon for seven to 10 days, will instead end its mission in five days.

Intuitive Machines said on Friday that Odysseus caught the bottom of one of its six landing legs on the uneven lunar surface during its final descent and tipped over. The spacecraft is propped up on a rock.

“Flight controllers intend to collect data until the lander's solar panels are no longer exposed to light,” the Houston-based company said in an update posted online on Monday.

“Based on Earth and Moon positioning, we believe flight controllers will continue to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning.”

It is unclear how much scientific data will be lost as a result, although engineering teams are to assess how the overall mission will be affected.

Images taken by Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft showed Odysseus as a tiny speck on the Moon's surface, within 1.5km of its intended landing site near a crater called Malapert A.

Intuitive Machines also released images Odysseus captured during its descent, but there were none yet from the surface.

Commercial craft completes first US Moon landing in more than 50 years

Commercial craft completes first US Moon landing in more than 50 years

Despite its sideways touchdown, the mission became the US first Moon landing in more than 50 years and was part of a new fleet of Nasa-funded unmanned commercial craft intended to pave the way for astronaut missions later this decade.

Odysseus launched on February 15 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and has a new type of propulsion system comprising supercooled liquid oxygen and liquid methane that allowed it to race through space in quick time.

Nasa hopes to eventually build a long-term presence and harvest ice on the Moon for both drinking water and rocket fuel under Artemis, its flagship Moon-to-Mars programme.

Instruments carried on Odysseus include cameras to investigate how the lunar surface changes as a result of the engine plume from a spaceship, and a device to analyse clouds of charged dust particles that hang over the surface at twilight as a result of solar radiation.

It also carries a Nasa landing system that fires laser pulses, measuring the time taken for the signal to return and its change in frequency to precisely judge the spacecraft's velocity and distance from the surface, and avoid a catastrophic impact.

The rest of the cargo was paid for by Intuitive Machines' private clients, and includes 125 stainless steel mini moons by the artist Jeff Koons.

There is also an archive created by a non-profit whose goal is to leave backups of human knowledge across the solar system.

Nasa paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to ship its hardware under a new initiative called Commercial Lunar Payload Services, which it created to delegate cargo services to the private sector to achieve savings and stimulate a wider lunar economy.

Updated: March 05, 2024, 10:52 AM