Intuitive Machines' Odysseus prepares for Moon landing

It slides into orbit. Now comes (another) hard part

Updated Intuitive Machines has tweaked today's Moon landing time to 2230 UTC following the successful insertion of its Odysseus lander into lunar orbit.

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.

The lunar orbit insertion burn was completed yesterday and lasted 408 seconds. It left the Nova-C lander, named Odysseus, in a 92 km circular lunar orbit, ready for the next challenge – landing on the Moon.

NASA has six payloads on the lander through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The lander also has several others, notably one from Lonestar to demonstrate its lunar datacenters concept.

Should the landing succeed, it will be something of a first. Previous landings have been the work of government entities, such as JAXA's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) or NASA's Apollo program. Commercial attempts have, up to now, failed. Most recently, the Astrobotics Peregrine lander suffered a critical fuel leak and failed to enter lunar orbit.

Unlike JAXA's SLIM, which deliberately aimed for a slope, Odysseus is targeting a relatively flat and "safe" area for landing, according to NASA. The plan is to land on the Moon's South Pole region near a lunar feature known as Malapert A.

The US space agency said: "Landing near Malapert A will also help mission planners understand how to communicate and send data back to Earth from a location where Earth is low on the lunar horizon."

The mission was aiming for a landing site in Oceanus Procellarum, but that was changed in early 2023 to "prioritize the return of lunar scientific data in support of the Artemis Program," according to Intuitive Machines.

There are two more CLPS missions on the schedule for Intuitive Machines in 2024. IM-2 is expected to be the first example of in-situ resource utilization and will feature a drill. IM-3 will demonstrate swarm robotics with the deployment of four small autonomous rovers. Both missions will also be loaded with other science payloads. ®

Updated to add

Judging from the project's livestream, the landing was successful, and a faint signal was received from the surface. Well done.

Confirming the touchdown, NASA said its instruments on the lander "will prepare us for future human exploration of the Moon."

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