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

Controllers estimate 10-20 hours remain for Intuitive Machines lander

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.

While the landing has been called a success, surviving a few days on the lunar surface is quite some way from the original plan of seven days or more before the lunar night arrived and Odysseus ceased operations.

The question now is exactly how much work the stricken lander can actually do on the Moon, considering it is on its side – or "on the wonk," as one space agency insider memorably told us – with its battery life fast depleting. According to Intuitive Machines, the lander has "efficiently sent payload science data and imagery in furtherance of the Company's mission objectives."

NASA has also published images of the lander taken by its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) as it passed approximately 90 km above the landing site.

Intuitive Machines emphasized the fact that Odysseus had landed intact and is maintaining communication from its southern lunar location ("the furthest south any vehicle has been able to land on the Moon and establish communication with ground controllers," according to the company). It is, however, unclear how much science it will achieve in the time remaining before the battery life is exhausted.

Japan's Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) recently "woke up" after spending much of the previous month hibernating. We asked Intuitive Machines if there was a chance that Odysseus might do the same, but the company has yet to respond.

According to NASA's observations, Odysseus came within 1.5 km of its intended Malapert A landing site, using a contingent laser range-finding system patched hours before landing. A post by Mark Robinson, principal investigator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), described the local terrain where Odysseus came to rest as "sloped at a sporty 12°."

This writer once heard a pilot explaining the reason for a plane circling the runway as being due to "sporty" conditions at an airport. With limited fuel and a recently patched range-finding system, Intuitive Machines did not have quite the same choice. ®

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