Odysseus moon lander likely has 10 to 20 hours of battery life left, company says


FILE PHOTO: Intuitive Machines' Odysseus lunar lander captures a wide field of view image of Schomberger crater on the Moon, in this handout picture released February 23, 2024. Intuitive Machines/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) - Odysseus, the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon since 1972, has roughly 10 to 20 hours of battery life left, according to flight controllers who are still in contact with the robot lander.

Texas-based Intuitive Machines said on Tuesday its flight controllers were in touch with the Odysseus moon lander and the spacecraft had relayed payload science data and imagery in the morning. NASA paid Intuitive $118 million to build and fly the spacecraft to the moon, carrying science instruments for the U.S. space agency and several commercial customers.

The craft landed last Thursday, but its timetable for seven to 10 days of operation was expected to be cut short after a sideways touchdown. The company is still working on the final determination of the battery life of the lander, Intuitive said.

The company's shares were down 8% on Tuesday, paring losses after Intuitive said it was still in touch with the lander. Still, the stock has wiped out most of its gain since late last week.

It remained to be seen how much research data and imagery from various payloads will be uncollected because of Odysseus' shortened lunar lifespan.

The Nova-C-class lander was launched on Feb. 15 from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on a Falcon 9 rocket supplied by Elon Musk's SpaceX. The six-legged vehicle reached lunar orbit six days later.

Odysseus made its final lunar descent and landed the next day, Feb. 22, close to its intended destination in the region of the moon's south pole, despite an 11th-hour navigational glitch.

Initial radio signals from the spacecraft were unexpectedly faint, confirming the vehicle made it to the surface intact but suggesting something was amiss.

Intuitive executives said on Feb. 23 that engineers had determined that Odysseus had caught the foot of one of its landing legs on the craggy lunar surface as it neared touchdown and tipped over before coming to rest horizontally, apparently propped up on a rock.

Intuitive acknowledged then that the lander's sideways posture left two of its communications antennae pointed downward, knocking them out of commission, while limiting its solar panels' exposure to sunlight, and thus the ability to recharge its batteries.

Company officials said only one of NASA's six experiments appeared to be physically impinged and that the needs of all the commercial payloads could still be met.

The company on Monday said flight engineers expected Odysseus to go dark on Tuesday morning, once sunlight could no longer reach its solar panels, based on calculations of the positions of the Earth and moon.

Despite its less-than-ideal touchdown, Odysseus became the first U.S. spacecraft to land on the moon since NASA's last crewed Apollo mission to the lunar surface in 1972.

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

The mishaps surrounding the Odysseus mission illustrated anew the risks inherent in NASA's strategy of leaning more heavily on small, relatively less experienced private ventures than it did during the Apollo era.

It came a month after the lunar lander of another U.S. firm, Astrobotic Technology, suffered a propulsion leak on its way to the moon shortly after being placed in order on Jan. 8 by a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket.

Japan's space agency JAXA experienced a setback similar to Odysseus in January with its own SLIM moon lander, which likewise ran out of power after tipping over on the lunar surface, leaving its solar panels at the wrong angle.

On Monday, however, JAXA reported that its "pinpoint" lander had unexpectedly survived a freezing lunar night and re-established communication with Earth, more than a month after arriving on the moon.

(This story has been corrected to fix the day of lunar landing to last Thursday, instead of Friday, in paragraph 3)

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles, Joey Roulette in Washington and Akash Sriram in Bengaluru; Editing by David Gaffen, Sriraj Kalluvila and Jonathan Oatis)

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