July 15, 2024
The Odyssey spacecraft 2024

NASA is counting on a second spacecraft, being constructed by a different firm, to accomplish the first American lunar landing in almost 50 years following the failure of a lunar landing mission last month. The lunar lander, also known as Odysseus, or Odie for short, is scheduled to launch on Wednesday at 12:57 a.m. ET aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The spacecraft will be launched by the rocket into an oval-shaped orbit that circles the planet 380,000 kilometres (236,100 miles) in all directions. According to Stephen Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines, it will be like “a high-energy fastball pitch towards the moon.” Odysseus was created by his Houston-based business.

After entering Earth’s orbit, the lunar lander will detach from the rocket and set off on its own, use an internal engine to propel itself directly in the direction of the lunar surface.

Odysseus is anticipated to sail through space alone for a little over a week, with a moon landing attempt scheduled for February 22.

In the event that Odysseus is successful, it will be the first American spacecraft to land gently on the moon since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The importance of the Odysseus mission

One month has passed since the NASA-funded spacecraft Peregrine, manufactured by Astrobotic Technology, failed to complete its mission. This lunar lander is being launched. Shortly after Peregrine’s January 8 launch, the Pittsburgh-based business disclosed a potentially catastrophic fuel leak. Ten days later, when the spacecraft hurtled back towards Earth, it burnt up in the atmosphere.

However, as part of a programme known as CLPS, or Commercial Lunar Payload Services, NASA has funded the development of a small fleet of independently built lunar landers.

Joel Kearns, the space agency’s deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, clarified, “In CLPS, American companies used their own engineering and manufacturing practices instead of adherence to formal and traditional NASA procedures and NASA oversight.” “CLPS is an evaluation of that theory.”

The program’s goal is to build lunar landers under fixed-price contracts at a relatively low cost, with the intention of employing the spacecraft to establish US lunar presence when a new space race gains momentum.

The only countries that have soft-landed vehicles on the moon in the twenty-first century are China, India, and Japan. NASA is still certain that the US will be the first nation to send people back to the moon, but there is a growing worldwide race to place robotic spacecraft on the moon.

The way NASA has embraced commercialization—the notion that several spacecraft can be produced more rapidly and affordably with private business vying for contracts than if the space agency were to create its own—sets its approach apart from others.

Altemus of Intuitive Machines refers to this tactic as “forced innovation.”

“Businesses needed to consider strategies to mitigate risk and devise quick fixes for technical issues while spending less money,” he told CNN. “Thus, it significantly reduced the initial cost of lunar access, making it possible to accomplish… at a lower cost than what had previously been done during the Apollo era.”

For this project, NASA may award Intuitive Machines up to $118 million in total.

The Odyssey spacecraft 2024 Odysseus

An assembly of lunar landers

The success of these initial landing attempts might determine the direction and speed of NASA’s redoubled efforts to study the moon robotically before attempting to bring men back to the lunar surface later this decade. However, the NASA CLPS programme does not depend on every mission landing safely.

After Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, a 2013 startup, will be the second CLPS programme member to try a lunar landing. (Two more CLPS missions are scheduled for 2024 after this.)

With three planned moon trips, Intuitive Machines holds the most orders from NASA of the four companies selected to deploy lunar landers to the moon under the CLPS programme.

What’s in the air

According to Intuitive Machines, the Odysseus lander is a Nova-C model that is around the size of a British phone booth with legs added.

The space competition is focused on a location close to the moon’s south pole, which is where the corporation hopes to land the spacecraft. Water ice that may one day be used as rocket fuel or as drinking water for astronauts is thought to exist in this area.

NASA plans to land astronauts in the same area of the moon at the south pole later this year.

Six NASA payloads, or scientific equipment intended to test novel technologies or assess the lunar environment (e.g., a study of the behaviour of the moon’s soil after landing), will be carried on board the lander.

Commemorative items, like as a sculpture of the moon phases created in collaboration with Jeff Koons, as well as technologies from private businesses, such as Columbia Sportswear, which created the lander’s insulating material, will also be on board.

If everything goes as planned, Odysseus will work on the moon for seven days while the lunar lander enjoys the sun. But the spacecraft will go to sleep once the landing zone enters Earth’s shadow and experiences lunar darkness.

The likelihood of success

A few successful lunar landings, accomplished by Japan and India, have occurred in the last year. However, there have also been severe failures, with recent spacecraft losses by Russia and the United States.

According to Altemus, Intuitive Machines has an 80% probability of successfully putting Odysseus on the moon.

“We’ve stood on the shoulders of everybody who’s tried before us,” he remarked, noting that Intuitive Machines made an effort to examine the Peregrine lander’s propulsion problem from last month and made sure the same issue wouldn’t come up for Odysseus’ mission.

Altemus continued, “We just have a fundamentally different architecture.”

However, he stated that a successful endeavour would only be the beginning.

Altemus stated, “It’s not a one-and-done operation at all.” “The goal of developing a lunar programme was to conduct frequent lunar flights.”

According to a vision outlined by NASA and its partners, developing programmes that can make frequent robotic visits to the moon might pave the way for a day when lunar travel is routine, affordable, and supports larger initiatives like a functional lunar base with personnel living and working there.

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