April 20, 2024

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The Odysseus Moon Lander sends images home before the spacecraft likely dies

The Odysseus Moon Lander sends images home before the spacecraft likely dies

Odysseus, the American robotic spacecraft that landed on the moon last week, will likely die in the next day or so.

Intuitive Machines, the Houston-based company that built and operates Odysseus, said Monday morning that communications with the upside-down lander remain limited and will end when sunlight no longer shines on the solar panels.

The company also released images taken by the spacecraft during its descent, but none have yet been taken from the surface.

Odysseus is the first American spacecraft to land on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972, and the first private spacecraft ever to successfully land there in one piece. However, during the landing on Thursday evening, the lander, which is about 14 feet tall, appeared to be moving faster than planned and ended up flipping on its side.

As a result, their antennas are not pointed at the ground, which greatly slows down the data transmission rate. While some of Odysseus's solar panels are initially bathed in sunlight, they will soon be in shadow as the sun moves across the sky. This will starve the spacecraft of energy, and it will drain its batteries.

Odysseus was not designed to survive the next two weeks of lunar night, with temperatures dropping below minus 200 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Flight controllers intend to collect data until the vehicle's solar panels are no longer exposed to light,” Intuitive Machines said Published on X. “Based on the position of the Earth and Moon, we believe flight controllers will continue to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning.”

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Flight spotters also now know exactly where Odysseus was on the moon. On Saturday, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter took an image as it passed over the landing site, revealing a spot that was not present in the orbiter's previous image of the area.

The Odysseus lander touched down about a mile from its target landing site, with greater accuracy than most previous landers. This feat was all the more impressive given that engineers at Intuitive Machines had to patch the spacecraft's software to bypass non-working lasers that were supposed to track the spacecraft's altitude.

Intuitive Machines said Odysseus was also able to discover nine safe landing sites within the Antarctic region, information that could be useful for future missions as NASA and other space agencies look to explore that region. Frozen water in the shadows of craters there could one day provide important resources for astronauts.

As Odysseus faded, another lunar lander unexpectedly came back to life. The Japanese space agency JAXA reported on Monday that the Lunar Exploration Intelligent Lander, or SLIM, has… alive. SLIM successfully landed on the moon's surface in January. The failure of one of its engines caused it to move sideways upon landing, and like Odysseus, it flipped into an unexpected direction with its solar panels in the shadows.

SLIM came back to life a few days later when sunlight hit some panels, but went back to sleep as lunar night fell.

Like Odysseus, the SLIM was not designed for extreme cold.

But as the sun returned to the sky, SLIM's solar panels generated enough energy to charge its batteries and reconnect with Earth. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said temperatures were so high that communications were cut off shortly after.

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However, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency said it plans to resume SLIM's scientific studies of the surrounding terrain once temperatures drop.

And while no one is counting on him to do so, Odysseus may also wake up again after sunrise at his landing site in March.