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Odysseus moon lander appears to have tipped over, NASA partner says

Odysseus, the first robotic probe to be sent by a commercial company to the moon, is scheduled to set down near the lunar south pole.

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus moon lander flipped over on its side as it was landing on the moon Thursday evening, according to the company.

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The craft, the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years, apparently came down faster than expected and moved slightly to one side when it touched down, snagging its footpad on a piece of the lunar surface and tipping over, according to The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines officials said that it looks like the spacecraft may be resting on a rock or the lander could be tipped over on upward-sloping terrain, CBS reported.

Steve Altemus, CEO and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, said the craft was still being powered by the sun’s light and able to send information back to Earth.

“We’re downloading and commanding data from the buffers in the spacecraft and trying to get you surface photos because I know that everyone’s hungry for those,” Altemus said.

Odysseus is thought to be within a few miles of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater. The crater is less than 200 miles from the south pole, according to NASA, the craft’s main customer.

The lander was launched on Feb. 15 by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and came into orbit around the moon last Wednesday.

Flight controllers encountered an issue with a sensor package that needed adjustment to correct the trajectory for the craft to land where it was intended.

As Intuitive Machines engineers worked to get the lander in position to land, they received help from one of NASA’s payloads onboard the craft.

Navigation Doppler Lidar, or NDL, was being sent to the moon for testing but was used to help Odysseus to land after engineers hurriedly wrote and tested software patches to integrate the NASA system into the lander’s navigation algorithms, CBS reported.

The NDL system operates like a radar but captures reflected laser light instead of radio waves. The system measures vehicle velocity, direction and altitude.

Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries, the AP reported.

Last month, Japan landed a craft on the moon, but the lander also turned over on its side.

While NASA and Odysseus’ other customers are getting information back, the lander’s usefulness will soon end.

The sun will drop below the horizon at the landing site in a little more than one week, cutting off the power generation by the lander’s solar cells.

The spacecraft is not designed to withstand the ultra-low temperatures of the lunar night and flight controllers do not expect the craft to answer as they attempt to recontact the probe when the sun rises again on the site.

While disappointed that the craft tipped over, Odysseus’ maker and customers are happy with the mission’s results.

“Let me congratulate Intuitive Machines for three major accomplishments,” Joel Kearns, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration, said. “The first is for having the first successful soft landing on the moon by the United States since 1972. The second is for being the first non-government commercial organization to actually touch down safely.

“And the third is for having a touchdown point at 80 degrees south latitude, much closer to the south pole of the moon than any earlier U.S. robotic or human explorers.”

The information from Odysseus will help NASA when it sends astronauts from its Artemis program to the south polar region of the moon in the next several years.

That’s important to NASA, which plans to send Artemis astronauts to the south polar region in the next several years to look for possible ice deposits while establishing a long-term presence on the moon.

NASA paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to carry six payloads to the moon aboard Odysseus.