The moon welcomes odysseus: A private sector victory


Team Udayavani, Feb 24, 2024, 3:34 PM IST

Intuitive Machines has made history by successfully landing its Odysseus lander on the moon. This marks the first occasion a private company has managed to land a spacecraft on the moon, a significant achievement following several unsuccessful attempts by other firms.

The journey for Odysseus began with a launch on a Falcon 9 rocket on February 14. It reached the moon’s orbit on February 21 and made its landing near the moon’s south pole on February 22.

During the live broadcast from mission control, the atmosphere was tense as the time for the lander to touch down came and went without any signal from it. A bit later than expected, Tim Crain, the mission director at Intuitive Machines, announced they had received a signal. It was weak, but definitely from the lander, confirming it had made it to the moon’s surface.

The condition of the spacecraft was still uncertain at that point, but the mission was considered a success. Intuitive Machines CEO Stephen Altemus relieved the tension by saying, “I know this was a nail-biter, but we are on the surface. WELCOME TO THE MOON.”

Before Intuitive Machines’ successful landing, three other companies tried and failed to land on the moon. In 2019, SpaceIL’s Beresheet spacecraft and in 2022, ispace’s Hakuto-R mission both ended up crashing into the moon and getting destroyed.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, launched in January, didn’t even get close to landing on the moon. It had to be sent back to Earth because of a fuel leak and was destroyed in the atmosphere. With IM-1’s landing, Intuitive Machines has now joined a special group. Before this, only the space agencies from the Soviet Union, the US, China, India, and Japan had managed to land on the moon successfully.

Now that the Odysseus lander has safely arrived on the moon, it’s time for the second phase of the IM-1 mission to start. The lander brought with it twelve payloads, half for NASA and half for commercial purposes. Some of these, like the landing aids and a camera for taking pictures of the landing, have already done their job. Just getting to the moon was a success for some items, especially the 125 small sculptures by the artist Jeff Koons. Now, other tools, such as those designed to study how the moon’s surroundings impact its surface, will begin their work.

This mission is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which gives contracts to private companies to help develop space flight capabilities through partnerships between the government and private sector. Three more moon landings are scheduled for 2024 under this program, including another mission by Intuitive Machines to collect water ice from the moon’s south pole.

(The author Girish Linganna of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: [email protected])

(The author Girish Linganna of this article is a Defence, Aerospace & Political Analyst based in Bengaluru. He is also Director of ADD Engineering Components, India, Pvt. Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany. You can reach out to him at: [email protected])

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