US returns to the moon half a century after the Apollo program, live | The science

Half a century after the Apollo 17 mission, a US spacecraft will land on the moon this Thursday. This is a module Odysseus, which was successfully launched last week by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. If the mission is successful, it will be the first lunar landing by Intuitive Machines, a private company owned by Iranian-American billionaire businessman Kamal Ghaffarian. NASA estimates arrival will occur at 12:24 a.m. Friday Spanish Peninsula time (6:24 p.m. on the east coast of the United States and 5:24 p.m. in central Mexico). Here you can watch the signal live as soon as it starts broadcast by the company and NASA, which is expected to be an hour and a half before the vehicle lands on the Moon.

The new attempt comes after an eventful few months for other participants in the space race and after the recent fiasco of the Japanese and another American missions. Odysseus It carries six devices that NASA wants to place safely on the gray dust. Intuitive Machines’ lander fired its engine on the far side of the Moon on Wednesday while out of contact with Earth. Flight controllers at the company’s headquarters in Houston had to wait for the craft to exit to find out whether the lander was in orbit or drifting aimlessly, during one of the mission’s most delicate moments.

On Thursday, controllers lowered the craft’s orbit from about 60 miles (92 kilometers) to 6 miles (10 kilometers) in a crucial maneuver on the far side of Earth’s natural satellite. They then aimed for a descent near the moon’s south pole.

Odysseus It tracks its position using cameras, comparing crater patterns to stored maps, and measuring altitude using laser beams on the surface. About 1.2 kilometers from the landing site, the spacecraft will turn into an upright position and sensors will begin searching for a safe place to land. During the last 15 meters of descent, you will stop using the camera and laser to measure your altitude to avoid being fooled by the dust kicked up by the engine exhaust.

Private cooperation

NASA has begun outsourcing most of its missions to private companies and plans to continue to do so. Intuitive Machines is one of 14 suppliers selected to deliver payload to the Moon as part of the CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative. The goal of this program is for American companies to deliver scientific, research and technological payloads to the surface and lunar orbit.

As such, the space agency is seeking to gain new knowledge about the lunar environment to support future manned missions as part of the Artemis campaign. For now, NASA has had to shelve its plans to return humans to the Moon precisely because of accumulated technical problems with several of the companies involved. The last time American astronauts set foot on the Moon was in December 1972 during the Apollo 17 mission. Half a century later, space adventures continue.

On this mission, NASA is the primary customer, owning half of the 12 payloads that Odyssey carries. The company paid Intuitive Machines $118 million to take its work tools to the moon. This is a stereoscopic camera for observing the plume of dust rising upon landing; a radio receiver for measuring the effect of charged particles on radio signals; experiment with autonomous navigation capabilities to support future ground and orbital operations; a set of eight retroreflectors that will serve as a permanent location marker on the Moon for decades; a lidar-based descent and landing sensor, a device that works on the same principles as radar but with lasers, and a meter that uses radio waves to determine how much propellant remains in the tanks in low gravity conditions.

Three previous attempts by NGOs failed. One corresponded to an American company, another to a Japanese company, and the third to a private, non-profit Israeli initiative. The US company Astrobotic Technology attempted to send the module last month, but it did not even reach the Moon due to loss of fuel. This module returned to free fall through the atmosphere and burned until it disintegrated over the Pacific Ocean. All devices on board the ship from various institutions around the world were lost along with the ship. The Hakuto-R probe, which attempted this last April, did not produce any signals after the planned contact time, which was interpreted as an accident. A similar attempt by a group of Israelis failed in 2019.

In January, Japan became the fifth country to land on the moon, but its ship landed on its side. The Japanese SLIM probe landed with its engines facing upward and its solar panels turned to the side, so its functions were severely impaired. Other countries that have reached satellite through government initiatives include the United States, the former Soviet Union, China and India.

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