Intuitive Machines' private Odysseus lander snaps 1st moon photo, enters lunar orbit


Odysseus is now circling the moon.

The robotic Odysseus spacecraft, built by Houston company Intuitive Machines, arrived in lunar orbit this morning (Feb. 21) after acing a crucial maneuver.

“Odysseus completed its scheduled 408-second main engine lunar orbit insertion burn and is currently in a 92-km [57 miles] circular lunar orbit,” Intuitive Machines announced via X today.

“After traveling over 1,000,000 km [620,000 miles], Odysseus is now closer to the moon than the end-to-end distance driving across Space City, Houston, TX,” the company added in another X post.

Odysseus’ time in lunar orbit will be brief: The lander will try to touch down near the moon’s south pole on Thursday afternoon (Feb. 22) no earlier than 5:30 p.m. EST (2230 GMT). Success would be historic: No private spacecraft has ever soft-landed on the moon, and no American vehicle has done so since Apollo 17 in 1972. You can watch the attempt here at Space.com.

Related: Missions to the moon: Past, present and future

During its lunar approach, Odysseus notched another big milestone, snapping its first photo of the moon (that we know of). Intuitive Machines shared that image via X today as well.

“Goodnight, moon. Odysseus captured this image approximately 100,000 km [62,000 miles] from the moon using its Terrain Relative Navigation camera,” the company said in a post early this morning.

Odysseus, which is about the size of a British telephone booth, launched atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Feb. 15, carrying 12 payloads toward the moon. Half of them are NASA science instruments, which the agency put on board via its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS.

CLPS aims to help NASA gather data that will advance the agency’s Artemis program of crewed moon exploration, by leveraging the capabilities of private American lunar landers.

Artemis aims to establish a crewed base near the moon’s south pole by the end of the 2020s. This region is thought to contain large amounts of water ice, which could be used for life support and be processed into rocket fuel to help refuel spacecraft on the go.

Odysseus’ mission, called IM-1, isn’t the first CLPS effort to get off the ground. Last month, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander took flight on the debut mission of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket. Peregrine suffered a serious fuel leak shortly after deploying from the rocket’s upper stage, however, and Astrobotic ended up steering the probe into Earth’s atmosphere on Jan. 18.

The other six payloads Odysseus is carrying on IM-1 belong to private customers, including Columbia Sportswear, which put some of its “Omni-Heat Infinity” insulative material aboard to give it a deep-space test.

selfie taken by a spacecraft with earth's limb, the blackness of space and the distant sun in the background.

selfie taken by a spacecraft with earth’s limb, the blackness of space and the distant sun in the background.

RELATED STORIES:

— Why is it so hard to land on the moon?

— NASA’s Artemis 3 astronaut moon landing unlikely before 2027, GAO report finds

— What is Intuitive Machines and how is it aiming for the moon?

Odysseus isn’t the first private spacecraft to reach lunar orbit. For example, the Beresheet and Hakuto-R landers — built by a private Israeli team and the Tokyo-based company iSpace, respectively — both successfully circled Earth’s nearest neighbor.

Both, however, crashed during their touchdown attempts, Beresheet in April 2019 and Hakuto-R in April 2023.

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 6:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 21 with the new target landing time of no earlier than 5:30 p.m. ET on Feb. 22.





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