Private American lander reaches lunar orbit before landing attempt

Private American lander reaches lunar orbit before landing attempt – February 21, 2024 at 5:53 p.m

((Automated translation by Portal, see disclaimer

(Company comment, distance from Earth and company information added, paragraphs 4 and 12) by Steve Gorman

A lunar lander built by Houston-based Intuitive Machines reached lunar orbit on Wednesday, heading toward America's first landing on Earth's nearest celestial neighbor in more than 50 years and the first ever by a private one Space probe succeeded.

The six-legged Nova-C lander, named Odysseus, entered a circular orbit 57 miles (92 km) above the lunar surface after firing its main engine for nearly seven minutes as part of an orbital insertion maneuver, the company said in an online report Opinion.

If all goes as planned, the robotic spacecraft is expected to gradually lower its orbit over the next 24 hours and land in Malapert A crater near the moon's south pole at 5:49 p.m. EST (2249 GMT) on Thursday NASA's series of scientific instruments and technology demonstrations.

Odysseus remains “in excellent health,” the company said, adding that mission controllers in Houston would monitor the spacecraft's flight data and transmit images of the moon for the duration of its lunar orbit, about 239,000 miles (384,000 km) from Earth.

Odysseus was launched six days ago, on February 15, aboard a Falcon 9 rocket built and flown by SpaceX, Elon Musk's California company, from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If the landing is successful, the IM-1 mission would be the first controlled descent of a U.S. spacecraft to the lunar surface since Apollo 17, when NASA's last manned lunar mission with Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt launched there in 1972.

It would also be the first “soft landing” on the moon ever made by a commercially manufactured and operated vehicle, and the first under NASA's Artemis lunar program, as the United States works to return astronauts to Earth's natural satellite , before China lands its own manned spacecraft there.

The IM-1 mission comes about a month after another company's lunar lander, Astrobotic Technology, suffered a leak in its propulsion system en route to the moon, shortly after crashing off a United Launch Alliance (ULA) volcano on Jan. 8 ) had been put into orbit by a rocket that made its first flight.

The malfunction of Astrobotic's Peregrine lander, which also carried NASA payloads to the moon, marked the third time a private company failed to touch the lunar soil, following failed efforts by Israeli and Japanese companies.

These mishaps illustrate the risks NASA faces by relying more heavily than in the past on the commercial sector to achieve its space goals.

Although it is an Intuitive Machines mission, flight IM-1 is carrying six payloads of NASA instruments that will collect data about the lunar environment ahead of NASA's first manned Artemis mission, scheduled to operate on the Moon later in the decade should.

Intuitive Machines was co-founded in 2013 by Stephen Altemus, former deputy director of NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston and current president and CEO of the company.

NASA announced last month that it was moving its target date for the first manned moon landing of Artemis from 2025 to the end of 2026, while China said it was targeting 2030.

Small landers like Nova-C should arrive on the Moon first, carrying instruments to closely examine the lunar landscape, its resources and its potential threats. Odysseus will focus on interactions between space weather and the lunar surface, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies and navigation.

So far, spacecraft from only five countries have landed on the moon: the United States, the former Soviet Union, China, India and, most recently, Japan last month.