Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander tipped over at touchdown, but it’s still kicking

It turns out Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus spacecraft didn’t land upright after all. In a press conference with NASA Friday evening, the company revealed the lander is laying on its side after coming in a little faster than expected, likely catching its foot on the surface at the moment of landing. Fortunately, Odysseus is positioned in such a way that its solar panels are still getting enough light from the sun to keep it charged, and the team has been able to communicate with it. Pictures from the surface should be coming soon.

While the initial assessment was that Odysseus had landed properly, further analysis indicated otherwise. Intuitive Machines CEO and co-founder Steve Altemus said “stale telemetry” was to blame for the earlier reading.

A model of the spacecraft showing it positioned on its side

All payloads except the one static art installation, though — Jeff Koons’ Moon Phases sculptures — are on the upturned side. The lander and its NASA science payloads have been collecting data from the journey, descent and landing, which the team will use to try and get a better understanding of what happened. But, all things considered, it seems to be doing well.

The team plans to eject the EagleCam, developed by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, so it can take a picture of the lander and its surroundings perhaps as soon as this weekend. It was supposed to be ejected during descent to capture the moment of landing, but issues on touchdown day prevented it from being released.

A portion of the Odysseus lander can be seen with the lunar surface in the background from after it reached lunar orbit

Intuitive Machines

The Bel’kovich K crater on the Moon’s northern equatorial highlands as seen by Odysseus from orbit

Intuitive Machines

Once Odysseus was in lunar orbit and hours away from its landing attempt, the team discovered its laser range finders, which are key to its precision navigation, were not working — due entirely to human error. According to Altemus, someone forgot to flip a safety switch that would allow them to turn on, so they couldn’t. That realization was “like a punch in the stomach,” Altemus said, and they thought they could lose the mission.

The team was thankfully able to make a last-second adjustment cooked up on the fly by Intuitive Machines CTO and co-founder Tim Crain, who suggested they use one of the on-board NASA payloads instead to guide the descent, the Navigation Doppler LIDAR (NDL). In the end, Odysseus made it there alright. Its mission is expected to last a little over a week, until lunar night falls.

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