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HomescienceThe first moon landing in the United States since 1972, when a...

The first moon landing in the United States since 1972, when a private spacecraft landed on the moon


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Intuitive machines Odysseus's landing It landed on the moon's surface on Thursday after a historic hard landing following a last-minute navigation sensor malfunction, becoming the first American-made spacecraft to attach to a spacecraft. Landing on the moon For over 50 years and the first ever by a private company.

After delaying the final descent by one orbit to press NASA's experimental navigation sensor into service — and to test hastily written software patches to route its data to the descent flight computer — Odysseus settled for a landing at 6:23 p.m. EDT near the crater. Known as Malapert A, it is about 186 miles from the moon's south pole.

Artist's impression of the Odysseus lander on the moon.

Intuitive machines

But the condition of the spacecraft was not immediately known. Engineers at Intuitive Machines' Nova control center in Houston expected it would take up to two minutes or so to restore communications after landing, but the expected signal was not immediately found.

Finally, a communications antenna in the United Kingdom picked up a faint signal, indicating that the spacecraft had indeed survived the landing.

“What we can confirm, without a doubt, is that our equipment is on the surface of the moon, and we are broadcasting,” mission director Tim Crane told the flight control team. “So congratulations IM team! We'll see how much we can get out of that.”

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson was quick to congratulate Intuitive Machines, SpaceX, on its success The Falcon 9 rocket that launched Odysseus Last week from Kennedy Space Center and the agency's commercial moon program, saying they had “succeeded in landing a lifetime.”

“Today, for the first time in more than half a century, the United States returned to the moon,” he said. “Today, for the first time in human history, a commercial company, an American company, has launched the flight there. Today is a day that shows the power and promise of NASA's commercial partnerships.”

He concluded by saying: “What a victory!… This feat is a giant leap forward for all of humanity.”

But a detailed assessment of the condition of the spacecraft and its payloads was awaiting telemetry analysis, and it was not immediately known how long that might take.

The historic landing began one day after Odysseus entered an orbit inclined 80 degrees to the lunar equator. As it plummeted toward the surface on Thursday, the rover's onboard cameras and lasers were programmed to scan the ground below to identify landmarks, providing directional inputs to the lander's guidance system to help set the trajectory.

Intuitive machines

But those sensors failed to work properly, prompting Intuitive Machines to turn to a set of NASA sensors it had on board as a technology demonstration. These sensors were not intended for use during landing, but as landing began, engineers reported that they were working properly to provide the required navigation data.

About 12 minutes before landing, the spacecraft's main engine ignited at an altitude of just under 20 miles, and a few minutes after that, Odysseus flipped from horizontal to vertical, falling straight toward the surface.

As the spacecraft descended to less than 100 feet, an innovative camera package, known as “EagleCam,” built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, aimed to drop and attempt to photograph the lander's final descent from the side. NASA's cameras on board the spacecraft will image the Earth directly below.

By the time Odysseus reached about 33 feet above the surface, the main engine was scheduled to drop to a planned descent speed of about 2.2 mph, the walking speed of an elderly person.

Video from the lander's onboard cameras and EagleCam can't be sent back to Earth in real time, but Intuitive Machines engineers at the company's Nova Control Center in Houston were expecting to take the first images within a half-hour or so. Due to communications problems, it was expected that these images would appear later.

A successful landing on the moon's surface would mark the first landing of an American-made spacecraft since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, and the first landing ever of a private spacecraft.

A camera on the Odysseus lander captured an image of the moon beneath the spacecraft after a critical engine fire Wednesday to brake into lunar orbit.

Intuitive machines

Astrobotic, based in Pittsburgh It had hoped to claim that honor last month with the Peregrine lander, but the mission was derailed by a fuel tank rupture shortly after launch on January 9. One by Israel And the other with it Japanand also ended in failure.

Only the governments of the United States, the Soviet Union, China, India, and Japan have successfully placed landers on the moon, and Japanese SLIM lander. It was only partially successful, capsizing on landing on January 19.

Both Peregrine and Odysseus were funded in part through NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program, or CLPS (pronounced CLIPS), designed to encourage private industry to develop transportation capabilities that NASA can then use to transport payloads to the Moon.

The agency's goal is to help jump-start the development of new technologies and collect the data that will be needed Artemis Astronauts plan to land near the moon's south pole later this decade.

NASA paid Astrobotic $108 million for its role in the Peregrine mission and another $129 million for the Odysseus instruments and transportation to the Moon.

What's on board the Odysseus moon lander?

Odysseus is equipped with six NASA instruments and six other commercial payloads, including small moon sculptures by artist Jeff Koons, proof-of-concept cloud storage technology, Columbia insulated sports blankets and a small astronomical telescope.

Among NASA's experiments: an instrument to study the charged particle environment on the moon's surface, a demonstration of navigation technology, and downward-pointing cameras designed to image how lander engine exhaust disrupts soil at the landing site.

Also on board: an innovative sensor that uses radio waves to precisely determine the amount of cryogenic propellant remaining in the tank in the weightless environment of space, a technology expected to be useful for eventual lunar missions and other deep space missions.

Odysseus and its instruments are expected to work on the surface for about a week, until the sun sets at the landing site. At this point, the probe's solar cells will no longer be able to generate power and the spacecraft will stop working. Odysseus was not designed to survive the frigid lunar night.

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