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The mission to the moon by the spacecraft Odysseus will end early due to a rough landing.
Science World News

The mission to the moon by the spacecraft Odysseus will end early due to a rough landing.

According to Intuitive Machines, the company responsible for the spacecraft, flight control engineers anticipate a loss of communication with the private US moon lander Odysseus on Tuesday. This will result in an early conclusion to the mission, only five days after its landing.

It was uncertain how much scientific information could potentially be lost due to the reduced lifespan of Odysseus. The company and its primary customer, Nasa, had previously estimated that the moon-based project would have lasted between seven to 10 days.

The organization’s prediction that the mission would end early was accompanied by recent revelations about testing shortcuts and mistakes made by humans, which ultimately caused the laser-guided range finders to fail during the spacecraft’s landing on Thursday.

A representative for Intuitive Machines stated that the absence of the range finding equipment was due to the company’s choice to skip a pre-launch test of the laser system for efficiency and cost-saving purposes during the pre-flight inspection of Odysseus at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

According to Mike Hansen, the head of navigation systems at the company, testing and activating the system would have been both time-consuming and expensive. So the company acknowledged and accepted the risk of not doing so.

Intuitive Machines announced on Friday that the laser range finders used for providing altitude and forward-velocity data to Odysseus’s autonomous navigation system were not functioning. This was due to company engineers forgetting to unlock the safety switch of the lasers before the launch on February 15th. Similar to a gun’s safety switch, the lock can only be deactivated manually.

Just hours before the final descent, a range-finder malfunction was detected, which led flight controllers to come up with an experimental solution in order to prevent a potentially disastrous crash-landing.

The engineer Hansen, who created the software “patch” to resolve the issue, stated that the company has not determined if the makeshift navigation method, which utilized an experimental system provided by Nasa on the lander, played a role in the spacecraft landing on its side.

In its initial post-landing press conference on Friday, the company reported that Odysseus made contact with the uneven Lunar surface with one of its six landing legs during descent and ultimately tipped over, landing horizontally and appearing to be supported by a nearby rock.

The executives at Intuitive Machines suggested that the spacecraft’s landing might have been affected by its faster-than-anticipated speed. However, it is still unknown if using the initial laser range finders could have altered this outcome.

In all situations, the positioning of Odysseus caused a significant hindrance to the amount of sunlight that could reach its solar panels, which are essential for recharging its batteries. Additionally, two of its antennae were directed downwards, affecting the company’s ability to communicate effectively, as reported on Friday.

At that time, leaders at Intuitive Machines stated that their engineering teams would require additional time to evaluate the impact on the mission as a whole.

On Monday, the company, based in Houston, announced an update online stating that data collection will continue until the solar panels on the lander are no longer receiving sunlight. According to the positioning of Earth and the Moon, flight controllers anticipate being able to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning, which will mark five days since its landing.

NASA, with multiple research instruments onboard, had previously stated that these payloads were specifically designed to function for a duration of seven days using solar power until the sun set near the south pole of the moon where the vehicle landed.

According to the company executives, its payloads would have a maximum operational time of nine to ten days after the landing of Odysseus, as per the best-case scenario, as reported on Friday to the media.

Intuitive Machines’ stocks experienced a drastic decline of 35% on Monday.

Although it landed less than perfectly, Odysseus achieved the feat of being the first US spacecraft to touch down on the moon since the Apollo mission in 1972, when astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt visited the lunar surface.

This marked a significant milestone as the initial manned mission to the moon conducted by a private space company, and the first to fall under Nasa’s Artemis initiative, with the objective of sending astronauts back to the moon by the end of the decade, prior to China’s own landing with a manned spacecraft.

Intuitive Machines reports spending approximately $100 million on the lander, and receiving $118 million from NASA through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. This program, which aims to encourage competitive commercial transportation to the moon, operates on a low budget.

Source: theguardian.com