Cislunar

IM-1 Is Sideways, But We’ve All Been There

An image of the Moon captured by the Odysseus Nova-C lander from orbit. Image: Intuitive Machines.
An image of the Moon captured by the Odysseus Nova-C lander from orbit. Image: Intuitive Machines.

Call it a soft-ish landing. 

Odysseus, Intuitive Machines’ first lunar lander, is sideways on the Moon, likely propped up on a rock formation within 2–3 km of its intended landing site, according to the latest update from the company late Friday.

How it landed: The vehicle descended at 6 mph, slightly faster than expected, while moving laterally at 2 mph. That, engineers theorize, led the lander to spin as it touched down. Because of the power being generated by the solar panels and reports from other sensors, the company believes it wound up tilted over on its side.

Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus demonstrates the state of the Odysseus lunar lander. Image: Intuitive Machines.
Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus demonstrates the state of the Odysseus lunar lander. Image: Intuitive Machines.

News of the off-kilter lander, following initial reports that it was upright, caused $LUNR’s stock to fall $3 in overnight trading. But sellers may be overreacting: CEO Steve Altemus reports that the payloads on board are still functional. Only one—Jeff Koons’ art cube—is on the panel facing the Moon. More importantly, the technology largely worked, and the company has time to adapt the learnings from this mission to its next lander later this year.

Whoops: Altemus also gave more detail on the last-minute software patch that enabled the lander to use a NASA LiDAR system to guide it toward the lunar surface. The laser rangefinders intended to do the job failed because a physical safety switch was not flipped by technicians when they were installed—the kind of unforced error that keeps aerospace engineers up at night. 

But the fates were apparently smiling on the mission when the lander entered lunar orbit with a slightly lower perigee than expected. The flight controllers attempted to fire the laser altimeters, which otherwise wouldn’t have been used until the landing, only to discover that they were inoperable.

Can you hear me now? As of the last update, flight controllers are still working to get a steady radio connection with the lander, which would allow them to download more data, including the much-awaited images. We’re also hoping to obtain imagery from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to nail down Odysseus’ location. And the students at Embry-Riddle who flew an ejectable camera payload on the lander still plan to capture an image of the lander on the ground. 

Related Stories
CislunarCivil

Sweden and Switzerland Sign the Artemis Accords

NASA has been building up its team of responsible space actors, and this week, it brought on two new recruits.

Cislunar

Japanese PM Inks Deal to Join Artemis Moon Return

Two Japanese astronauts will travel to the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program, potentially becoming the first non-Americans to set foot on the lunar surface.

Cislunar

DARPA Funds Pie-In-the-Sky Moon Train Study

Out: the train to space. In: the inter-Moon-base express.

Cislunar

He-3’s All That for Interlune

He-3 is mainly used in security and medical sensors to detect radiation, but it could theoretically be used as fuel for a nuclear fusion power plant.