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Lunar Lander Feared to Have Tipped While Touching Down on Moon

In Business
February 24, 2024

(Bloomberg) — The American-made lander that touched down on the moon likely landed on its side, officials said.

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Intuitive Machines Inc., the Houston-based maker of the spacecraft, said in a press briefing late Friday the vehicle is still transmitting data and is able to charge. The company also said the lander still has operational capability.

The update could be a setback for Intuitive Machines and partner NASA, which initially declared the vehicle was upright. The landing was lauded as the first private-sector lander to reach the moon intact, breaking a string of failures by other companies.

The mission had already faced a hurdle prior to touching down, when the company learned that lasers designed to navigate the moon’s terrain weren’t working properly. Intuitive Machines switched to a NASA lidar instrument and sent the lander on an extra lap around the moon to upload a software patch to boost the lidar’s capability.

Intuitive Machines said it incorrectly believed the lander was upright on Thursday due to faulty data.

The vehicle, a Nova-C lander nicknamed Odysseus, was carrying carrying six payloads for NASA and five from commercial customers, including sculptures from artist Jeff Koons. One payload could have been damaged, the company said.

The revelation sent the company’s shares plunging as much as 39% after regular trading in New York.

The development underscores the difficulty of landing a robotic craft on the uneven lunar surface. An Israeli nonprofit, SpaceIL, tried in 2019, but its craft came in too fast and crashed on the surface. Last year, Tokyo-based Ispace Inc. lost contact with its lander, which likely crashed. And in January, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic’s lander suffered engine failure just after reaching space.

–With assistance from Anne Cronin and Dave Merrill.

(Updates with more details on the lander starting in fourth paragraph.)

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