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Commercial lunar lander brakes in orbit, paving way for historic landing attempt Thursday

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The Odysseus lunar lander fired its main engine for six minutes and 48 seconds Wednesday, placing the spacecraft in a 57-mile-high orbit around the moon and paving the way for a landing attempt Thursday, the first for a American spacecraft for over 50 years. years.

“Ulysses is now closer to the Moon than the distance traveled from one end of Space City, Houston to the other,” spacecraft manufacturer Intuitive Machines said on its web page. “Over the next day, while the lander remains in lunar orbit, flight controllers will analyze the entire flight data and transmit images of the Moon.

“Ulysses continues to be in excellent health,” the company added.

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A photo taken by a camera mounted on the Odysseus lander shows the spacecraft passing over the near side of the Moon.

Intuitive machines


If all goes well, Ulysses will begin its descent to the surface Thursday afternoon, landing near a crater known as Malapert A, 186 miles from the moon’s south pole, at 5:30 p.m. EST.

“You know, of all the missions to the Moon in human history, there’s only been a 40 percent success rate,” said Steve Altemus, a former space shuttle engineer. and co-founder of Intuitive Machines, in an interview with CBS News. Last year. “We think we can do better than that. That’s why I rate our chances of success at 75 percent.”

The chances are probably better than that now, given how the main engine actually performs in space.

The commercially developed lander successfully tested the engine last Friday, a day after its launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. The 21-second “commissioning” verified that the engine, the first methane-oxygen propulsion system used in deep space, was working as designed.

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The Intuitive Machines Mission Control Center in Houston.

Intuitive machines


Two trajectory correction maneuvers were then performed to refine Ulysses’ trajectory toward the Moon, placing the spacecraft on such a precise trajectory that a third planned adjustment was not necessary. This paved the way for Wednesday’s lunar orbit insertion, or LOI, burning on the far side of the Moon.

The decisive maneuver slowed the spacecraft, nicknamed “Odie,” from 1,789 mph to place the lander in the planned circular orbit.

Flight controllers at Intuitive Machines’ Nova Control Center in Houston plan to conduct a series of health checks, data reviews and rehearsals to ensure Odysseus is ready for its historic descent to the surface on Thursday in what would be the first for a privately built unbuilt. -government spaceship.

The main engine will again play a critical role, pulling Odysseus out of orbit and reducing throttle as necessary to ensure a smooth landing at a vertical speed of around 2.2 mph.

No real-time photos or video are expected during the descent, but flight controllers should be able to confirm the landing within about 15 seconds of the actual landing. The first images of the Moon are expected half an hour later.

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Artist’s impression of the Odysseus lander on the surface of the Moon.

Intuitive machines


The spacecraft carries six NASA payloads designed to study the lunar environment and test new technologies, as well as six payloads provided by commercial customers. These range from miniature moon sculptures by artist Jeff Koons to insulating blankets provided by Columbia Sportswear and a deployable camera system built by the students.

Only the United States, Russia, China, India and Japan have successfully landed softly on the surface of the Moon. Three privately funded lunar landers were launched between 2019 and last January, one since an Israeli non-profit organizationa die a Japanese company and more recently, Pittsburg-based Astrobotic’s Peregrine. All three failed.

Both Peregrine and Odysseus were funded in part by NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS (pronounced CLIPS) program, designed to encourage private industry to develop transportation capabilities that NASA can then use to transport payloads to the Moon.

The agency’s goal is to help jumpstart the development of new technologies and collect data that will be needed by Artemis astronauts who plan to land near the Moon’s south pole later this decade.

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