The Odysseus probe lands on the moon a first for

The Odysseus probe lands on the moon; a first for the private sector

A probe from the American company Intuitive Machines landed on the moon on Thursday and sent a signal, a first for a private company and the first landing of an American device in more than 50 years.

• Also read: For the first time since Apollo, an American probe will attempt to land on the moon

However, the signal received was weak and the status of the lander was not immediately completely clear.

“We can confirm without a doubt that our equipment is on the lunar surface and that we are sending a signal,” Tim Crain, manager at Intuitive Machines, said during the company’s live video.

The moon landing took place at 5:23 p.m. Houston time, Texas, where the company's control room is located (11:23 p.m. GMT).

The Nova-C lander, which primarily transports NASA's scientific instruments, is just over four meters high. It launched from Florida last week and reached lunar orbit on Wednesday.

The dreaded descent took about an hour.

Lasers on the lander that would normally allow the device to control itself were not working, but the Intuitive Machines teams were able to use a NASA instrument on board as a backup, intended to be tested only during the mission.

About ten minutes before landing, a significant boost from the Nova-C engine slowed down, preparing it for its final vertical descent from a height of 30 meters. The lander was then completely autonomous.

A small camera-equipped machine developed by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University then had to be launched from the moon to capture the big moment from outside.

The Odysseus probe lands on the moon a first for


Nova-C was expected to reduce its speed from 1,800 meters per second to one meter per second when its six feet touched the ground.

This is the first landing of an American probe on the moon since the end of the legendary Apollo program in 1972.

India and Japan recently managed to land there thanks to their national space agencies, becoming the fourth and fifth countries to do so after the Soviet Union, the United States and China.

But several companies – Israeli, Japanese and American – have so far failed to achieve the same feat.

Russia also missed a moon landing this summer.

lunar south pole

Intuitive Machines' target location is about 300 kilometers from the moon's south pole. The crater used as a runway is named Malapert A, after a 17th century astronomer.

The lunar south pole is of interest because there is water there in the form of ice that could be used.

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NASA wants to send its astronauts there with its Artemis missions from 2026.

She would like to study this region more intensively, particularly in preparation for these missions.

To do this, it uses its brand new program called CLPS (for “Commercial Lunar Payload Services”). Instead of developing ships for the moon itself, the American space agency commissioned private companies to bring their scientific equipment there.

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Intuitive Machines is one of the selected companies and the contract value with NASA for this first mission, called IM-1, is $118 million.

The aim is to reduce costs for the authority, to be able to carry out the trip more frequently, but also to further develop the lunar economy. And this despite the risks of failure.

A first mission of the program led by the American company Astrobotic failed to reach the moon last month.

Seven days full of activity

The lunar lander Intuitive Machines, whose example for this mission was named Odysseus, also carries six private cargoes. Among them: sculptures by contemporary artist Jeff Koons depicting the phases of the moon.

NASA's six scientific instruments on board focus on initial observations of this little-explored region.

Cameras placed beneath the moon were designed to analyze the amount of dust ejected during descent to compare it with the Apollo moon landings.

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Another instrument will study the lunar plasma (a layer of gas charged with electricity) and measure radio waves coming from the sun and other planets.

Odysseus, powered by its solar panels, should normally operate for about seven days from the time of its landing before night falls at the moon's south pole.