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Rough landing cuts short historic private moon lander mission

Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in Science & Technology News

After the historic return of the U.S. to the surface of the moon after more than 50 years last week, a private company’s lunar lander will likely have its mission cut short because of how it landed.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines managed to touch down on the moon last Thursday with its Nova-C lander Odysseus, but the craft tipped over to one side, likely because it had one of its landing gear catch,, company officials said. The lunar lander is not expected to be able to maintain power or communicate with mission managers beyond tomorrow.

“Flight controllers intend to collect data until the lander’s solar panels are no longer exposed to light. Based on Earth and moon positioning, we believe flight controllers will continue to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning,” reads an update from the company’s website.

That’s bad news for NASA, which paid the company $118 million as part of its Commercial Lunar Lander Services program, which tasks private companies to build hardware capable of bringing payloads to the moon. NASA has six payloads on board worth about $12 million that were aiming for eight to nine days of life before the sun set on that part of the moon, although Intuitive Machines’ pre-launch target was seven days.

This means two to four days less life than planned.

It’s also bad news for students and faculty at Daytona Beach’s Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, which had one of six other non-NASA payloads on board, a set of cameras called EagleCam, named after the university’s mascot. EagleCam was originally designed to be ejected from Odysseus as it made its descent so that it could hit the lunar surface beforehand and capture Odysseus’ actual landing.

 

Because of issues with the lander’s navigation system that forced a change in how it landed, the decision was made to keep EagleCam in place.

But plans were still to send EagleCam out so that it could at least get a photo of the lander and send that back to Earth.

Embry-Riddle’s team worked over the weekend after the change in plans, concocting how it would be deployed, as telemetry data indicated EagleCam was still fully operational. Troy Henderson, the faculty lead for EagleCam, said in an Embry-Riddle press release that it expected it could be deployed out to somewhere between 9 and 15 feet from the lander.

Images would be transmitted back to the lander via Wi-Fi and then have to be transmitted back to Earth.

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