1707983674 Intuitive machines Odysseus the ship with which the USA wants

Intuitive machines: “Odysseus”, the ship with which the USA wants to return to the moon half a century later, has successfully launched | Science

The United States is trying again, more than half a century after leaving the moon. The Odysseus module is already on its way to Earth's natural satellite after a successful launch at 1:05 a.m. (7:05 a.m., Spanish peninsular time) from the US base at Cape Canaveral in Florida on board a SpaceX Falcon 9. Odysseus is a new lander model called Nova-C from the company Intuitive Machines that plans to land on the moon next Thursday (February 22) after just over a week of space adventures. The device carries six devices that NASA plans to place safely on the gray dust. If successful, Odysseus will be the first U.S. spacecraft to successfully land on the satellite since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. It will also be the first private module to achieve this, after an eventful few months for other competitors in the space race.

“Odysseus” with its six legs separates itself from the SpaceX rocket on its way to the moon through a small point to the left.“Odysseus” with its six legs separates from the SpaceX rocket on the way to the moon, a small dot on the left.SpaceX

Three quarters of an hour after launch, the SpaceX rocket cameras allowed Take part in the moment in which Odysseus, now alone, made his way to the moon, along a path so directly toward the satellite that its faint glow could be seen in the same plane (albeit as a small white dot).

The lunar lander success rate is still less than 50%, and recent years have not helped improve the statistics. Private projects in particular have always failed: Israel's Beresheet in 2019, Japan's Hakuto-R in 2023, and Astrobotics Peregrino in January 2024 have all failed. This final American attempt, sponsored by NASA, resulted in the loss of the Peregrino ship, which suffered propulsion failure and eventually intentionally disintegrated in Earth's atmosphere. In 2023, the Russian spacecraft Luna-25 also crashed, but the Indian spacecraft Vikram landed successfully. The Japanese SLIM probe also made it in January this year, although it landed on its side.

The launch had an additional innovation component as SpaceX's Falcon 9 was powered for the first time by methane, a fuel that China had already successfully used. This forced the development of a new method of filling the rocket's tanks and also caused the launch to be delayed due to a problem with methane temperature before the first attempt on Tuesday.

Intuitive machinesIllustration of the Nova-C lunar lander. Intuitive machines

Odysseus carries 12 payloads, half of the US space agency, which is using these collaborations with private companies to gradually advance its Artemis program to return to the moon at little expense. It also carries six commercial devices such as: Urn with sculptures Polka Dots by renowned artist Jeff Koons. This mission is IM-1, which aims to land near the Malapert-A crater, 260 kilometers from the lunar south pole, the coveted ice region. There, near the spot where India has already successfully landed, the gigantic resource of water ice is to be exploited for future space research. Intuitive Machines, which claims to have learned from previous failures, aims to launch the IM-2 mission later this year and IM-3 in 2025.

All of these missions are carried out as part of NASA's CLPS initiative, which aims to accelerate lunar exploration through contracts with private companies: the rockets are not fired, only a ticket is purchased on board. In this case, it paid $118 million to the public corporation to transport its instruments. The US authority had to postpone its plans to return people to the moon precisely because of the accumulation of technical problems at several companies involved.

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