Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus Lander’s Engine Tipped Vehicle Over Says Executive

Veloz Lamma

Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus Lander’s Engine Tipped Vehicle Over Says Executive

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With its stock up a respectable 28% since the launch of the Odysseus lunar lander, Intuitive Machines has shared remarkable images of the lander as it touched down on the Moon’s surface. The image is one of the few of its kind, as not only are Moon landings rare, but the final phase of the spacecraft’s journey is often the most perilous and sees little visual coverage.

The latest pictures from the first company to make a soft landing on the Moon saw its lander’s methane-powered engine blow lunar regolith in its wake as Odysseus approached the surface and land in a slightly tilted manner that was “still more upright than we initially thought” according to its chief executive Steve Altemus.

NASA Calls Intuitive Machines IM-1 Mission A Success As Odysseus Uses Up All Consumables On Board

NASA’s deputy associate administrator for its exploration program Joel Kearns, described attempts to land on the Moon as having “to ride a rocket all the way from the fast speed orbit,” adding that a key NASA objective for the IM-1 mission was to gather as much data as possible. Some of this data includes high-frequency noises from the earth that NASA instruments have received, according to CLPS project scientist Sue Lederer.

The bit about the data added to earlier comments from the Intuitive CEO, who stressed that the additional data the firm has received since the landing will allow it to develop a detailed picture of what happened on the flight.

Intuitive’s technology head, Tim Crain, provided updates about the firm’s test objectives for the Odysseus mission, the second for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The next planned Intuitive Machines launch adds to NASA’s lunar exploration efforts in the 21st century as it aims to land an ice drill on the Moon.

According to Crain, the IM-1 mission marked the first times a methalox (methane-liquid oxygen) engine had fired in deep space, a composite over-wrap liner-less tank had flow to space and a cryogenic payload was fueled on a rocket launch pad. Intuitive Machines also set the new record for the length of an engine firing during lunar orbit insertion and broke it again during landing.

On the flip side, he added that the firm could not run four key tests for its lunar landing program on Earth. These include its lunar communications network, stresses during launch and free flight control of the main engine. A Moon mission saw these tests run smoothly, paving the way for Intuitive’s next missions for NASA.

Odysseus’s methane engine blows lunar regolith (dust) during its landing approach. Image: Intuitive Machines

Altemus provided more details about the final phases of the lander’s descent when, in response to a question, he commented:

So, with respect to, piecing together what happened at landing, we received telemetry. If you remember on the evening of landing, we had no communication signal and then a weak signal. And in our consoles the data was up to a point and then frozen until that communications was restored. So we had an indication that we had landed, and we were upright. With that still data. And when we came back and looked at it, when we restored the communications we noticed that we were getting the IMU telling us we have [inaudible] gravity more in the z direction than the x direction.

Well then, we did a reconstruction where we actually calculated, the trajectory and flight dynamics guys calculated that we actually came down, just short of our landing site at a higher elevation than where our landing site was going to be. About a 1.5 kilometer difference between the ellipse of uncertainty for landing and where we touched down. That elevation was higher. So we came in with more downward velocity and we came in with more horizontal velocity.

So we hit harder and sort of skidded along the way, and we see that disruption in the regolith from the LRO data, that we’ve been able to get from LRO and ASU. And that discoloration says that we came down with the engine firing because the automated flight manager had not moded to where it was trying to sense and shut down the engine. We saw a spike, when we touched down in the engine combustion chamber. That was like if you shut off the full thrust by landing on the surface. So we know the engine belt contacted the surface. The landing gear took the bulk of the load, and we broke one or two possible landing gear.

So we sat there upright with the engine firing for a period of time. And then as it wound down, the vehicle just gently tipped over.

A soft landing enabled NASA to collect data as the instruments were functional, and some instruments that could not capture data will fly to the Moon on future missions. Odysseus should stop sending data later today, after which Intuitive Machines will try to wake it up as part of another test. As Intuitive Machines had to use alternative guidance systems for a landing, had Odysseus flown in its normal profile, then the engine would not have fired as the lander was on the surface, with Crain stressing that teams would have “nailed the landing” in this case.

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