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Private moon lander lifts off aiming for first US lunar touchdown in 52 years

Started by Rick, Feb 15, 2024, 09:31:26

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Private moon lander lifts off aiming for first US lunar touchdown in 52 years

A moon lander built by the Houston-based aerospace company Intuitive Machines was launched from Florida early on Thursday on a mission to conduct the first US lunar touchdown in more than a half century and the first by a privately owned spacecraft.

The Nova-C lander, nicknamed Odysseus, lifted off shortly after 1am EST atop a Falcon 9 rocket flown by Elon Musk's SpaceX from Nasa's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

Although considered an Intuitive Machines mission, the IM-1 flight is carrying six Nasa payloads of instruments designed to gather data about the lunar environment before Nasa's planned return of astronauts to the moon this decade.

Thursday's launch came a month after the lunar lander of another private firm, Astrobotic Technology, had a propulsion system leak on its way to the moon shortly after being placed in orbit on 8 January by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket making its debut flight.

More: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2024/feb/15/private-moon-lander-lifts-off-aiming-for-first-us-lunar-touchdown-in-52-years


Intuitive Machines' Odysseus prepares for Moon landing

The landing attempt will occur today, February 22, 2024, with descent orbit insertion beginning at 2117 UTC. Just over an hour later, at 2218 UTC, powered descent will begin. At 2228 UTC, the lander will pitch over with the main engine and, after negotiating any hazards, land at 2230 UTC.

Those times are approximate. As the engineers behind many of the recent previous landing attempts will attest, the situation can change awfully quickly.

More: https://www.theregister.com/2024/02/22/intuitive_machines_odysseus_orbit/


US returns to lunar surface for first time in over 50 years: 'Welcome to the moon'

The United States has returned to the lunar surface for the first time in more than 50 years after a privately-built spacecraft named Odysseus capped a nail-biting 73-minute descent from orbit with a touchdown near the moon's south pole.

Amid celebrations of what Nasa hailed "a giant leap forward", there was no immediate confirmation of the status or condition of the lander, other than it had reached its planned landing site at crater Malapert A.

But later Intuitive Machines, the Texas-based company that built the first commercial craft to land on the moon, said the craft was "upright and starting to send data".

More: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2024/feb/22/us-moon-landing-odysseus-intuitive-machines


NASA warns as huge solar flare threatens comms, maybe astronauts too

NASA has warned of strong solar flares that have the potential to interrupt communications in space and down here on Earth.

The aerospace agency on Thursday posted news of a flare that peaked at 5:34 p.m. EST on Feb. 22, 2024 (10:34PM UTC) that it's rated an X6.3 event.

Solar flares are rated in five categories: A, B, C, M, and X. A C-class flare is ten times more powerful than a B-class event, and an M-class event is ten times more powerful than a C-class event. Flares are also scored with a numerical value to indicate the magnitude of the event.

X-class flares are therefore significant. And this one is a very big one: a list of historical solar flares at Space Weather Live suggests this event was the 27th-most-powerful flare recorded and the biggest since 2017. The list's biggest event was rated an X40.

More: https://www.theregister.com/2024/02/23/solar_flare_warning/

(There's been some speculation that this series of flares has contributed to difficulties in communicating with Odysseus on the Moon...)


IM-1 lunar lander tipped over on its side

The Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar lander likely tipped over when touching down on the moon Feb. 22 and is now resting on its side.

In a televised media teleconference Feb. 23, nearly 24 hours after the IM-1 mission landed on the moon, company officials said they believed the lander, 4.3 meters tall and 1.6 meters in diameter, is resting on its side a few kilometers from its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater in the south polar regions of the moon.

The lander "caught a foot in the surface, and the lander has tipped," said Steve Altemus, chief executive of Intuitive Machines, illustrating the status of the lander with a small model of it.

He suggested that was caused by the lander coming down faster than expected. The lander's final descent was supposed to be straight down at about one meter per second, but was instead descending at about three times that velocity with about one meter per second of lateral motion.

More: https://spacenews.com/im-1-lunar-lander-tipped-over-on-its-side/


They need a lander that can stand itself up again.  This is not the first time this has happened. 


This one and the Japanese one both seem to have had rather high centres of gravity, which makes this sort of landing mishap more likely. There was a reason early landers were low-slung with legs reaching a long way out. The sky-cranes and bouncing-balls used for landings on Mars are other  approaches to deal with the same issue, but don't work so well in the absence of atmosphere...



There are some interesting details in the article. The laser rangefinder (supposed to tell the flight control system how high off the surface the craft was) wasn't working (because a physical switch, a safety measure on the ground because the lasers are not eye-safe, was not flipped before launch) so they had to figure an alternative using one of the other instruments on board to control the landing...


Odysseus probe moonwalking on the edge of battery life after landing on its side

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander is facing another countdown. This time the question is how much longer it can continue to operate until it exhausts what remains of the battery life.

On Monday, flight controllers reckoned they had until Tuesday morning before communication with the lander ceased. At the time of writing, controllers hoped there might be as much as 10-20 hours of battery life remaining.

More: https://www.theregister.com/2024/02/27/odysseus_battery_life/