Sideways moon landing cuts Odysseus' mission short

Staff WritersAP
The Odysseus lunar lander snapped a picture as it approached its landing site on the moon. (AP PHOTO)
Camera IconThe Odysseus lunar lander snapped a picture as it approached its landing site on the moon. (AP PHOTO) Credit: AP

A private US lunar lander is soon expected to stop working, its mission cut short after landing sideways near the south pole of the moon.

Intuitive Machines, the Houston company that built and flew the spacecraft, said on Monday it will continue to collect data until sunlight no longer shines on the solar panels.

Based on the position of earth and the moon, officials expect that to happen on Tuesday - two to three days short of the week or so that NASA and other customers had been counting on.

The lander, named Odysseus, is the first US spacecraft to land on the moon in more than 50 years, carrying experiments for NASA, the main sponsor.

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But it came in too fast last Friday and the foot of one of its six legs caught on the surface, causing it to tumble over, according to company officials.

Based on photos from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter flying overhead, Odysseus landed within 1.5km of its intended target near the Malapert A crater, just 300km from the moon's south pole.

The LRO photos from 90km up are the only ones showing the lander on the surface but as little more than a spot in the grainy images.

A camera-ejecting experiment by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, to capture images of the lander as they both descended, was called off shortly before touchdown because of a last-minute navigation issue.

According to NASA, the lander ended up in a small, degraded crater with a 12-degree slope.

This is the closest a spacecraft has ever come to the south pole, an area of interest because of suspected frozen water in the permanently shadowed craters there.

NASA, which plans to land astronauts in this region in the next few years, paid Intuitive Machines $US118 million ($A180 million) to deliver six experiments to the surface.

Other customers also had items on board.

Instead of landing upright, the 4.3-metre Odysseus came down on its side, hampering communication with earth.

Some antennas were covered up by the toppled lander, and the ones still exposed ended up near the ground, resulting in spotty communications.

The solar panels also ended up much closer to the surface than anticipated, less than ideal in the hilly terrain.

Even under the best of circumstances, Odysseus only had a week to operate on the surface before the long lunar night set in.

A Japanese lander ended up on the wrong side, too, just last month.

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