Moon mission: Intuitive Machines is about to launch its Odysseus spacecraft


The launch of the Odysseus spacecraft is scheduled for February 14 on the Moon.

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The American company Intuitive Machines will soon attempt to become the first private company to land a spacecraft on the Moon. Three previous efforts by other companies have failed, highlighting the rocky road ahead for Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander.

The spacecraft, nicknamed Odysseus, is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on February 14. It will travel atop a Falcon 9 rocket made by SpaceX. If the mission, called IM-1, goes well, Ulysses should land near the south pole of the Moon on February 22.

The goal of the IM-1 mission, aside from proving that a private company can land on the Moon, is to transport six NASA payloads and five commercial payloads to the lunar surface. NASA's instruments include tools to study how the landing itself causes lunar dust plumes to explode, several devices to help the craft land safely, and a device to measure radio waves and their impact on the lunar surface. Commercial payloads include a camera that will be launched from the lander before it lands to take photos of the landing, 125 tiny sculptures by artist Jeff Koons and a chip designed to establish an archive of human knowledge about the moon .

IM-1 is part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which awards government contracts to private companies with the goal of accelerating exploration and developing a lunar economy. This is the second CLPS mission: the first, Astrobotic's Peregrine lander, suffered a fuel leak shortly after launch in January, preventing it from reaching the Moon.

There have been two other Moon landing attempts by private companies – SpaceIL's Beresheet and ispace's Hakuto-R – but both crashed and were destroyed. If Odysseus succeeds where others have failed, Intuitive Machines' next step will be to send another Nova-C lander, equipped with a drill to harvest subsurface ice, to the Moon's south pole. This mission is planned for March 2024.

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