The Odysseus module mission on the Moon, aborted shortly after landing

Engineers at the control center expect to lose contact with the private U.S. lunar module Odysseus on Tuesday, which will interrupt the mission five days after the device lands on its side, the construction company Intuitive Machines announced on Monday, reports Reuters.

Spaceship Odysseus PHOTO: Intuitive Machines

It remains to be seen how much scientific data is at risk of being lost as a result of the shortened life of the Odysseus module, which, according to previous estimates by the company and its biggest customer, the US space agency NASA, should have operated on Moon between seven and ten days.

The company's statement on the premature end of the mission came as new details were received about the testing of shortcuts and human errors that led to an in-flight failure of the module's laser telemetry devices before it landed near the pole last Thursday. south of the moon.

An Intuitive Machines official said the loss of the range finder resulted from the company's decision to forgo a test of the laser system to save time and money during the pre-launch checks of Odysseus at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in the US state. Florida.

“There were certainly things we could have done to test it and trigger it. It would have been very time-consuming and very expensive.” said Mike Hansen, the company's head of navigation systems, in an interview given to Reuters on Saturday. “Therefore, it was a risk at the company level, which we assumed”, he specified.

On Friday, Intuitive Machines revealed that the laser rangefinders – designed to provide altitude and speed data to Odysseus' autonomous navigation system – were inoperable because the company's engineers failed to unlock the lasers' safety switch before the launch on the 15 February. This switch can only be disabled manually.

The failure of the telemetry device, detected just hours before final descent, forced flight controllers to send Odysseus into an additional lunar orbit while they looked for a solution to avoid a catastrophic landing.

Hansen, the engineer who created the software “patch” that fixed the problem, said it remains to be determined whether the improvisation used, which involved an experimental system provided by NASA on board the module, could have been a factor in the failure. led to selenization on one side.

Images recently captured by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show Odysseus as a tiny speck on the moon's surface, 1.5 kilometers away from the planned landing site, near a crater called Malapert A.

Intuitive Machines also released the images that Odysseus captured during his descent to the moon.

The company announced Friday during its first press briefing after landing that one of the module's six legs reached an uneven surface on its final descent, and Odysseus tipped to its side, apparently resting on a rock.

Intuitive Machines executives speculated that the module's forward speed during launch, about twice as fast as expected, may have been a cause of the tilted final position.

Odysseus' tilted position substantially limited the exposure of its solar panels to the sunlight needed to recharge the batteries. In addition, two of its antennas were pointed at the ground, preventing communication with the module, the company said on Friday.

Intuitive Machines executives said engineering teams will need more time to assess how the mission as a whole will be affected.

In an update posted online Monday, the Houston-based company said: “Flight controllers intend to collect data until the module's solar panels are no longer exposed to light. Based on the positioning of the Earth and the Moon, we estimate continued communication between flight controllers and Odysseus until Tuesday morning.”five days after selenization.

NASA, which has several research instruments aboard the module, said those payloads were designed to run for seven days on solar power before the sun sets over the landing site at the moon's south pole.

Shares of Intuitive Machines fell 35% on Monday.

Despite this setback, Odysseus became the first American spacecraft to successfully land on the moon since NASA's last manned Apollo mission, which landed astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt on the moon in 1972.

It was also the first ever landing by a spacecraft manufactured and operated by a private company and the first under NASA's Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to Earth's natural satellite this decade.

Intuitive Machines said it spent about $100 million on the lander and received $118 million from the US space agency under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), a low-budget NASA program to boost flights. to the Moon by private companies.