A commercial lunar lander has entered orbit, paving the way for Thursday's historic landing attempt

The Odysseus lunar lander fired its main engine for six minutes and 48 seconds on Wednesday, putting the spacecraft into a 57-mile-high orbit around the moon and setting the stage for Thursday's landing attempt, the first by an American spacecraft in more than 50 years. Years.

“Odysseus is now closer to the Moon than the full driving distance through Space City Houston,” spacecraft maker Intuitive Machines said on its website. “Over the next day, while the lander remains in lunar orbit, flight controllers will analyze the full flight data and transmit images of the Moon.

“Odysseus remains in excellent health,” the company added.

A shot from a camera mounted on the Odysseus lander shows the spacecraft passing over the near side of the Moon.

Intuitive machines

If all goes well, Odysseus will begin its descent to the surface Thursday afternoon, touching down near the crater known as Malapert A, 186 miles from the moon's south pole, at 5:30 p.m. EDT.

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

The odds should be even better now, given the main engine's actual performance in space.

The commercially developed lander successfully tested the engine last Friday, one day after launch Launching aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A 21-second “run burn” verified that the engine, the first oxy-methane propulsion system used in deep space, was operating as designed.

Intuitive Machines Mission Control Center in Houston.

Intuitive machines

Two course correction maneuvers were then performed to adjust Odysseus's path to the Moon, placing the spacecraft on an accurate course so that a planned third adjustment was not needed. That paved the way for Wednesday's lunar orbit insertion, or LOI, on the far side of the moon.

The “make or break” maneuver slowed the spacecraft, nicknamed “Odie,” by 1,789 mph to place the lander in the planned circular orbit.

Flight controllers at Intuitive Machines' Nova Control Center in Houston plan to work through a series of health checks, data reviews and drills to ensure Odysseus is ready for its historic descent to the surface on Thursday in what will be a first for a vehicle not built by the private sector. -Government spacecraft.

The main engine will once again play a crucial role, dropping Odysseus out of orbit and throttling as needed to ensure a gentle landing at a vertical speed of about 2.2 mph.

No real-time photos or video are expected during the landing, but flight controllers should be able to confirm the landing within about 15 seconds of the actual landing. It is expected that the first picture from the moon will be taken after half an hour.

Artist's impression of the Odysseus lander on the moon.

Intuitive machines

The spacecraft carries six NASA payloads designed to study the lunar environment and test new technology, along with 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 made by students.

Only the United States, Russia, China, India, and Japan succeeded in soft landing on the moon. Three privately funded lunar landers were launched between 2019 and last January, one of which from 2019 to 2019. Israeli non-profit organizationone of Japanese company And recently, Astrobotic's Peregrine is based in Pittsburgh. All three failed.

Both Peregrine and Odysseus were funded in part through NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program, or CLPS (pronounced CLIPS), 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 jump-start the development of new technologies and collect data that Artemis astronauts who plan to land near the moon's south pole later this decade will need.

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