Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Ulysses is on the lunar surface after his moon landing attempt – The Washington Post

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For the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972, a U.S. spacecraft reached the surface of the Moon on Thursday, an important step toward NASA’s plan to eventually return astronauts to the Moon’s nearest celestial neighbor. Earth.

After several tense minutes during which ground controllers were unsure of the health of the spacecraft, designed and operated by Houston-based Intuitive Machines, company officials said it landed with success and that he communicated with Earth. About two hours after landing, the company confirmed that “after troubleshooting communications,” the spacecraft was indeed upright, a momentous feat for the growing commercial space industry.

“What we can confirm without a doubt is that our equipment is on the surface of the Moon,” Tim Crain, chief technology officer of Intuitive Machines, said shortly after landing. “And we transmit. So congratulations.

But initially, success was not assured. As crews waited for news of the spacecraft in the first tense moments after landing, Crain told his team that “we’re not dead yet” while wondering aloud if the spacecraft had landed under a “offset angle”.

Steve Altemus, the company’s CEO, told his team, “I know it was a problem, but we’re on the surface and we’re transmitting.” Welcome to the moon.

The spacecraft landed at 6:23 p.m. Eastern time near the Moon’s south pole, after a weeklong journey that seemed to go very well from its launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from the Kennedy Space Center.

But as it prepared to descend to the surface, ground controllers realized that lasers intended to determine its altitude and horizontal speed, key data points allowing it to land smoothly autonomously on the surface of the Moon, did not work. They ordered the craft to make one additional orbit around the moon before the landing attempt. while downloading a software patch that would allow the spacecraft to begin using a NASA Doppler Lidar system which was to serve as a technological demonstration during the flight.

“We didn’t plan to use it according to the actual mission until landing, but now we are,” said Prasun Desai, deputy associate administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate of the NASA. “So this is now the primary system for providing speed and altitude information so that the lander can land safely on the surface.”

The apparent landing of the company’s 14-foot-tall Nova-C lander, which had no one on board, is the first time a commercial spacecraft has reached the lunar surface, and it validates a big bet that NASA had placed several years ago when it launched a $2.9 billion program to hire a fleet of private-sector robotic spacecraft to transport scientific experiments, technological instruments and eventually cargo to the Moon.

The Intuitive Machines mission was carried out under this program, known as the Commercial Lunar Payload Services, or CLPS, program. NASA has awarded Intuitive Machines a $118 million contract to transport six instruments to the lunar surface, which would help pave the way for future missions under its Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the Moon from 2026.

Last month, another commercial company, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, failed in its attempt to reach the lunar surface after its spacecraft encountered a propulsion problem.

When it first announced its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program several years ago, NASA leaders recognized the risk it was taking in relying so much on the private sector, which had never sent vehicle on the Moon before. But NASA continued to insist that even if some missions failed, others would succeed, and that the often risk-averse agency would be happy to continue “shooting on target,” as it has said.

“This is a really important change in the way we do business,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said in an interview before the landing. “The fact that NASA is not building or directly responsible for these missions or their launches is an opportunity to invest in commercial industry to build new capability. NASA will then be able to purchase the delivery service, and the intention being to hopefully increase the frequency of deliveries and reduce the cost of science for NASA.

This landing is a coup for NASA at a time when several countries are eyeing the Moon, particularly the lunar south pole, where water is found in the form of ice. Not only is water vital to human life, but hydrogen and oxygen could also be used as rocket fuel.

The Moon’s south pole has “been intriguing scientifically for a long time, in part because the rocks are really old,” Glaze said. “We think they are at least 3.85 billion years old, dating back to the very earliest days of the Moon. Obtaining information about these rocks will eventually reveal more about the history of the Moon. And then, by knowing this history, it tells us more about the history of the Earth.

China has announced its intention to send astronauts to the Moon by 2030 and eventually build a research station there. Last month, Japan became the fifth country to land on the Moon when its robotic spacecraft touched down – but on its own side. In 2023, India also landed a spacecraft on the Moon.

As part of its Artemis program, NASA intends to establish a lasting presence at the lunar south pole. Created during the Trump administration, the program was part of a space race with China, and in 2019, then-Vice President Pence ordered NASA to return astronauts to the Moon by this year. It will not happen. But the program was adopted by the Biden administration, the first time a human exploration campaign in deep space has survived subsequent presidential administrations since the Apollo era.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, a Biden appointee, also said the United States is in a race with China. But recently, NASA said that the next missions of the Artemis program would be further postponed due to various technical difficulties.

NASA successfully flew its Orion capsule, without anyone on board, around the Moon at the end of 2022. But its next flight, known as Artemis II, will not take place until September 2025 at the earliest, a indicated NASA. During this flight, Orion will carry four astronauts – three Americans and one Canadian – around the Moon. Artemis III, the first human landing attempt since Apollo, will be pushed back to the end of 2026, NASA announced.

NASA, however, is growing increasingly concerned about the effectiveness of Orion’s heat shield, which protects astronauts from the extremely high temperature generated when the spacecraft re-enters Earth’s atmosphere after engineers detected more charring than expected during the initial flight.

There have also been delays in the development of the spacesuits that astronauts will wear on the Moon and the Starship spacecraft, built by SpaceX, that NASA has chosen to transport astronauts to and from the lunar surface on the first flight.

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