Science

How Intuitive Machines Rescued Lunar Mission from Navigational Crisis

Intuitive Machines’ spacecraft, Odysseus, successfully touched down on the lunar surface, albeit sideways, marking a historic achievement as the first privately built spacecraft on the moon. The company’s CEO, Steve Altemus, confirmed the landing during a press conference, describing the descent as miraculous and demonstrating how engineers believe the spacecraft made its unconventional landing.

While the initial information suggested that Odysseus was upright upon landing, recent data indicates that it was indeed vertical but tilted over due to horizontal movement during a quicker descent. The spacecraft’s leg may have caught on something or broken, causing the tilt. Despite the unconventional landing, most of the onboard payloads, crucially, are on the upward-facing panel that doesn’t need to operate on the lunar surface.

The success of the mission is attributed to quick thinking by Intuitive Machines’ mission controllers and a stroke of good luck. Navigational issues arose after a planned maneuver called lunar orbital insertion, leading controllers to use a subsystem called “laser rangefinders” earlier than planned.

Discovering that the lasers were not working due to a safety switch oversight, the company made a last-minute decision to use a NASA doppler lidar payload for an additional two-hour orbit around the moon. This decision turned out to be a remarkable save, bringing the doppler lidar technology to its highest readiness level.

Intuitive Machines continues to reconstruct the events leading to the historic landing, and while the spacecraft is tilted, major subsystems, including solar arrays and onboard payloads, are performing well. The success of this mission adds another chapter to the growing achievements in private space exploration.

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