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“Robotic spacecraft enters lunar orbit, historic landing on the moon scheduled for Thursday”

Robotic Spacecraft Set to Make Historic Landing on the Moon

In a monumental achievement for space exploration, a robotic spacecraft has successfully entered lunar orbit, paving the way for a historic landing on the moon. Developed by Intuitive Machines, the spacecraft is scheduled to touch down on the lunar surface on Thursday evening, marking the first American spacecraft to do so in over 50 years.

The Houston-based company announced that the spacecraft, named Odysseus, is in excellent condition as it circles the moon at an altitude of approximately 57 miles. The landing is set to take place at 5:49 p.m. Eastern time. If successful, Odysseus will become the first commercial vehicle to land on the lunar surface since Apollo 17 in 1972.

This groundbreaking mission is part of a $118 million contract with NASA, who tasked Intuitive Machines with delivering six scientific and technological payloads to the moon. Odysseus, standing at an impressive 14 feet tall, is one of several robotic spacecraft being developed by the private sector in collaboration with NASA’s Artemis program. The ultimate goal of this program is to land astronauts on the moon, with a particular focus on the unexplored and potentially resource-rich lunar south pole.

Unlike the Apollo missions, which targeted the equatorial regions of the moon, Artemis aims to explore the lunar south pole where water, in the form of ice, is believed to exist in permanently shadowed craters. Odysseus’s landing site near a crater called Malapert A is one of the potential landing sites under consideration for future Artemis missions.

Entering lunar orbit was a significant milestone for Intuitive Machines, achieved just six days after the spacecraft’s launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. During its time in lunar orbit, flight controllers will analyze flight data and transmit imagery of the moon back to Earth.

However, the real challenge lies in the landing itself. Last month, another commercial space company, Astrobotic, faced difficulties when its spacecraft encountered an engine problem and suffered a fuel leak, preventing it from reaching the moon. Astrobotic plans to make another attempt, possibly later this year.

As Odysseus flies around the far side of the moon, it will lose contact with ground control for approximately 45 minutes. Each pass presents a unique challenge as the spacecraft alternates between the intense heat of the sun and the cold darkness behind the moon. To combat this, Odysseus relies on drawing heat from its batteries to keep its systems warm.

During descent, the spacecraft will ignite its engine to drop from an altitude of 62 miles to just over six miles. Cameras and lasers onboard will provide crucial data to the navigation computers, which will autonomously guide Odysseus to a safe landing spot on the lunar surface. At around 100 feet above the ground, the spacecraft will flip itself into a vertical position with its landing legs pointing downward. As fuel is burned and the lander becomes lighter, the engine thrust will gradually decrease.

In addition to its scientific payloads, Odysseus is also carrying a NASA instrument designed to capture images of the dust plume created by its engines. With plans to eventually land multiple spacecraft in close proximity to one another, NASA aims to understand the impact of landings on the moon’s surface and environment.

As the world eagerly awaits Thursday’s historic landing, the successful completion of this mission will mark a significant milestone in space exploration and pave the way for future lunar missions.


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