KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — While calling it a “stable, controlled landing” of the IM-1 mission’s lunar lander, Intuitive Machines CEO revealed that it tipped on its side when it was coming in for a landing.

However, the IM-1 team is in communication with Odysseus and is receiving data from it.

What You Need To Know

  • Despite being on its side, the lunar lander is still sending data and communicating with the IM-1 team, officials say

  • The EagleCam was supposed to record the first third-person view of a spacecraft landing on the moon

  • EagleCam will still deploy to take photos of the lander on the moon

On Thursday evening, Intuitive Machines made history by being the first private company to land on the moon with its IM-1 mission. It was the first time in more than 50 years that the United States was able to return to the moon. The last time was in 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission.

Since its launch last week from the Kennedy Space Center, The Houston-based company’s Nova-C lunar lander, named after the Greek hero, was supposed to land at crater Malapert A, near the south pole of the moon. But due to an issue with the craft’s internal navigation system hours before the soft touchdown, the IM-1 team decided to put it in another orbit around the silver sphere to resolve the issue before making the historic landing. The final landing site is closer to the south pole than originally intended.   

During a teleconference with the media on Friday evening, Steve Altemus, CEO and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, said the 14-foot-tall (4.3 meters) Nova-C class lunar lander went from 25,000 mph to 6 mph for its soft touchdown.

But as it was coming in for a landing, Altemus said that one of the lander’s six legs dug into the lunar ground and tipped over, where it is resting horizontally, and it is believed to be resting on a rock.

“If you think back from the Apollo days, there wasn’t one mission that went absolutely perfectly," he said. "So, you have to be adaptable, you have to be innovated and you have to persevere. And we persevered right up to the last moments to get this soft touch down that we wanted to."

Originally, it was thought that the lander was upright, but Altemus said that fuel tank readings and determining how much power one of the lander’s solar panels is receiving has helped establish the position of the vehicle.

Many of the solar plans are getting sun, so the lunar lander’s batteries are fully charged.

He confirmed that Odysseus has been collecting data and transmitting it back to the IM-1 team on Earth. And the IM-1 team is commanding the spacecraft.

He said three of the six NASA payloads helped with the landing of the lander, especially after the craft’s navigation system failed.

Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator helped to determine the lander’s precise location in space.

The Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL) was used for the powered decent of the craft.

And the Radio Frequency Mass Gauge gave the team an understanding how much fuel was in the tanks of the lander and what could be used for the landing.

But one of the payloads that will help to determine the state of Odysseus is Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam, said Altemus.

The importance of the EagleCam

Due to an issue with Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander Odysseus’ internal navigation system, the EagleCam could not be deployed to capture the historic soft-moon landing of a spacecraft from a private company. Altemus explained that to get the NDL connected to the lunar lander’s navigation systems to help with the descent, the EagleCam was shut off.

In a press release that was issued on Friday afternoon, the university announced that a decision was made to not deploy the EagleCam to ensure that the IM-1 mission’s Nova-C class lunar lander could safely land on the moon Thursday evening.

“Due to complications with Odysseus’ internal navigation system — specifically concerning the software patch to navigation data to include NASA’s NDL (Navigation Doppler Lidar) payload, which is meant to ensure a soft landing — the decision was made to power down EagleCam during landing and not deploy the device during Odysseus’ final descent,” the university stated.

One of EagleCam’s mission objectives was to record for the first time a third-person view of a spacecraft landing on the moon.

After the NASA press conference with Altemus and three others, the EagleCam team explained to Spectrum News by email — because they are still in lockdown in their lab going through the data — that the camera still has a lot of work ahead of it and it will be deployed to take pictures of the lunar lander on the moon’s surface.

The EagleCam team told Spectrum News that despite Odysseus’ new position, the camera will still be deployed.

“The deployment itself hasn't changed, but the geometry of the image and deployment have changed based on the landing configuration. However, with our wide field of view cameras, EagleCam will still provide invaluable data on the landing and final state of the lander,” said Dr. Troy Henderson, associate professor of aerospace engineering at the university and director of the EagleCam project.

Altemus said that the EagleCam will be deployed about 98 feet or 30 meters away from the lunar lander. Originally, the EagleCam was supposed to be spring ejected from Odysseus about the same distance but above the lunar surface during the final descent.

Andrew Ankeny, an aerospace engineer major and member of the EagleCam team, shared with Spectrum News the range of emotions the group felt when it received news that its project could not be launched from the lunar lander.

“We were informed of the software patch and were still troubleshooting the flags as we were about to come out of the blackout period," he stated. "Our number one priority was to not interfere with landing operations. After group discussions with Intuitive Machines’ mission control, the team decided it would be best for both IM's and our own mission success to remain powered down."

“Everyone was definitely disappointed the initial Con-Ops was changed," he added. "Those feelings lasted about five minutes followed by immediate excitement to witness Odie's landing. Since then, the team has remained professional, and laser focused on our next steps. I could not be prouder of everyone's composure."

Another team member, Jarred Jordan, said EagleCam will now play an important role in gathering valuable data for the IM-1 team on the exact state of Odysseus and how it ended up in its current position.

Jordan, who is also an aerospace engineer major, said the long-awaited images from EagleCam will come, but he was not sure when it will happen.

“Although the exact time we can get the images is unknown, we have a formal pipeline in place to get those images out to the public as soon as possible via the Space Technologies Laboratory (or ERAUEagleCam) and Intuitive Machines social media,” he said.  

The EagleCam was just one of the payloads that Odysseus carried to the moon, with many of them experiments from NASA and private companies.

The IM-1 mission is part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.  

Surviving the longest night

Dr. Tim Crain, chief technology officer and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, shared during the press conference the fate of the lunar lander.

“Once the sun sets on Odie, the batteries will attempt to keep vehicle warm and alive, but eventually it will fall into a deep cold," he said. "And then the electronics we produce just won’t survive the deep-cold of the lunar night."

A lunar night is about two Earth weeks.

The best-case scenario is that Odysseus will be “alive” for the next nine to 10 days before the lunar night, Crain said, who is also the IM-1’s mission director.

But he said that once the sun returns and shine on the solar panels, the IM-1 team will turn its satellites dish the lunar lander to see if its electronics survived the deep cold.


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