Posts with «space & astronomy» label

The Odysseus spacecraft has become the first US spacecraft to land on the moon in 50 years

The Odysseus spacecraft made by Houston-based Intuitive Machines has successfully landed on the surface of the moon. It marks the first time a spacecraft from a private company has landed on the lunar surface, and it’s the first US-made craft to reach the moon since the Apollo missions.

Odysseus was carrying NASA instruments, which the space agency said would be used to help prepare for future crewed missions to the moon under the Artemis program. NASA confirmed the landing happened at 6:23 PM ET on February 22. The lander launched from Earth on February 15, with the help of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Your order was delivered… to the Moon! 📦@Int_Machines' uncrewed lunar lander landed at 6:23pm ET (2323 UTC), bringing NASA science to the Moon's surface. These instruments will prepare us for future human exploration of the Moon under #Artemis.

— NASA (@NASA) February 22, 2024

According to The New York Times, there were some “technical issues with the flight” that delayed the landing for a couple of hours. Intuitive Machines CTO Tim Crain told the paper that “Odysseus is definitely on the moon and operating but it remains to be seen whether the mission can achieve its objectives.” Odysseus has a limited window of about a week to send data back down to Earth before darkness sets in and makes the solar-powered craft inoperable.

Intuitive Machines wasn’t the first private company to attempt a landing. Astrobotic made an attempt last month with its Peregrine lander, but was unsuccessful. Intuitive Machines is planning to launch two other lunar landers this year.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

A satellite designed to inspect space junk just made it to orbit

Astroscale’s ADRAS-J spacecraft, a demonstration satellite that could inform future space junk cleanup efforts, is now in orbit after a successful launch from New Zealand on Sunday. The satellite was sent to space atop an Electron rocket from Rocket Lab. Its mission, which was selected by Japan’s space agency (JAXA) for Phase I of the Commercial Removal of Debris Demonstration program, will see ADRAS-J rendezvous with an old Japanese rocket upper stage that’s been in orbit since 2009.

There it goes! 🛰️👋

ADRAS-J is now in orbit, ready to start its mission of rendezvousing with an aging piece of space debris and observing it closely to determine whether it can be deorbited in future.

Proud to be part of this innovative @astroscale_HQ mission studying ways to…

— Rocket Lab (@RocketLab) February 18, 2024

The accumulation of waste in Earth’s orbit from decades of spaceflight is an issue of growing concern, and space agencies around the world are increasingly working to address it, in many cases tapping private companies to develop potential solutions. One of the most effective ways to deal with space junk could be to deorbit it, or move it to a lower altitude so it can burn up in Earth’s atmosphere. ADRAS-J will be the first to target a piece of existing large debris and attempt to safely approach and characterize it, relying on ground-based data to hone in on its position.

Over the next few months, it’ll make its way to the target and eventually try to get close enough to take images and assess its condition to determine if it can be removed. “ADRAS-J is officially on duty and ready to rendezvous with some space debris!” the company tweeted. “Let the new era of space sustainability begin!”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Intuitive Machines’ moon lander sent home its first images and they’re breathtaking

Intuitive Machines’ lunar lander is well on its way to the moon after launching without a hitch on Thursday, but it managed to snap a few incredible images of Earth while it was still close to home. The company shared the first batch of images from the IM-1 mission on X today after confirming in an earlier post that the spacecraft is “in excellent health.” Along with a view of Earth and some partial selfies of the Nova-C lander, nicknamed Odysseus, you can even see the SpaceX Falcon 9 second stage falling away in the distance after separation.

Intuitive Machines successfully transmitted its first IM-1 mission images to Earth on February 16, 2024. The images were captured shortly after separation from @SpaceX's second stage on Intuitive Machines’ first journey to the Moon under @NASA's CLPS initiative.

— Intuitive Machines (@Int_Machines) February 17, 2024

Odysseus is on track to make its moon landing attempt on February 22, and so far appears to be performing well. The team posted a series of updates on X at the end of the week confirming the lander has passed some key milestones ahead of its touchdown, including engine firing. This marked “the first-ever in-space ignition of a liquid methane and liquid oxygen engine,” according to Intuitive Machines.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NASA is looking for volunteers to live in its Mars simulation for a year

If extreme challenges are your cup of tea, NASA has the perfect opportunity for you. The space agency put out a call on Friday for volunteers to participate in its second yearlong simulated Mars mission, the Crew Health and Performance Exploration Analog (CHAPEA 2). For the duration of the mission, which will start in spring 2025, the four selected crew members will be housed in a 1,700-square-foot 3D-printed habitat in Houston. NASA is accepting applications on the CHAPEA website from now through April 2. It’s a paid gig, but NASA hasn’t publicly said how much participants will be compensated.

The Mars Dune Alpha habitat at NASA’s Johnson Space Center is designed to simulate what life might be like for future explorers on the red planet, where the environment is harsh and resources will be limited. There’s a crew currently living and working there as part of the first CHAPEA mission, which is now more than halfway through its 378-day assignment. During their stay, volunteers will perform habitat maintenance and grow crops, among other tasks. The habitat also has a 1,200-square-foot sandbox attached to it for simulated spacewalks.

To be considered, applicants must be a US citizen aged 30-55, speak English proficiently and have a master’s degree in a STEM field, plus at least two years of professional experience, a minimum of one thousand hours piloting an aircraft or two years of work toward a STEM doctoral program. Certain types of professional experience may allow applicants without a master’s to qualify too. CHAPEA 2 is the second of three mission NASA has planned for the program, the first of which began on June 25, 2023. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Intuitive Machines' lunar lander begins its multi-day journey to the moon

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus has started making its way to the moon and could make history as the first privately built lander to touch down on the lunar surface. The lander was ferried to space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket using a booster that already had 17 flights under its belt before this one and could even fly again in the future, seeing as it had safely returned to Earth on the company's Landing Zone 1. Both SpaceX and Intuitive Machines have confirmed that Odysseus has successfully been deployed and has started its multi-day journey to the moon. 

Deployment of @Int_Machines IM-1 confirmed

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) February 15, 2024

To be exact, Intuitive Machines has set its sights on the Malapert A crater near the moon's south pole as Odysseus' landing site. The spacecraft can operate for around 14 Earth days when powered by sunlight, but the company is hoping for touchdown to take place by February 22. Odysseus, the first of the Nova-C type landers Intuitive Machines is planning to launch this year, is carrying five NASA payloads in addition to commercial cargo. 

The mission's objectives include demonstrating precision landing and testing certain communication and navigation node capabilities. It will also observe how rocket plumes and space weather interact with the lunar surface. IM-1 was one of the missions NASA had chosen to take its scientific instruments to the moon over the next few years as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. The first of the CLPS missions to take off was Astrobotic's Peregrine Mission 1, which unfortunately experienced an anomaly that prevented the lander from pointing its solar panels at the sun and caused it to leak propellant. Peregrine never made it to the moon and ended its journey by burning up in the Earth's atmosphere upon reentry. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Intuitive Machines is taking its shot at nailing the first commercial moon landing

Houston-based space company Intuitive Machines is gearing up for an actual moonshot at the end of this month, when it’ll try to land a spacecraft named Odysseus on the lunar surface — ideally without it breaking in the process. The mission follows Astrobotic’s unsuccessful attempt in January; that company’s lander, Peregrine, never made it to the moon due to a propellant leak that cut its journey short. Peregrine’s failure means Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission could be the first ever commercial moon landing if it makes it there intact.

Intuitive Machines is hoping to make its landing attempt on February 22, targeting the Malapert A crater near the moon’s south pole for touchdown. This arrival date is dependent on Odysseus, one of the company’s Nova-C class landers, leaving Earth atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket sometime between February 14 and February 16. The launch window opens at 12:57AM ET on Wednesday.

Odysseus is the first of three Nova-C landers Intuitive Machines plans to send to the moon this year, all of which will have commercial payloads on board and NASA instruments as contracted under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. At 14 feet tall (4.3 meters), the lander is roughly the size of a giraffe and can carry about 280 pounds (130kg) of cargo. Its mission, if it nails a soft landing, will be a short but potentially valuable one for informing future excursions to the region, including NASA’s upcoming crewed Artemis missions. Orbiting probes have found evidence of water ice at the lunar south pole, which could be used for astronaut subsistence and even fuel, making it an area of high interest for human exploration.


The solar-powered craft and any functional equipment it’s carrying are only expected to be in working condition for about a week before the onset of lunar night, a 14-day period of frigid darkness that the company says will leave the lander inoperable. But while everything’s up and running, the various instruments will gather data at the surface. NASA awarded Intuitive Machines a $77 million contract for the delivery of its payloads back in 2019, and there are six NASA instruments now hitching a ride on Odysseus.

One, the Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA), will “function as a permanent location mark” from its position on the moon after landing to help incoming spacecraft determine their distance from the surface, according to NASA. The lander is also carrying the Navigation Doppler LIDAR for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing (NDL), a sensor that measures velocity and altitude to better guide the descent, and the Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator (LN-1) to support communication and autonomous navigation in future missions.

NASA is also sending instruments to study surface plumes — everything that gets kicked up when the lander touches down — along with radio waves and the effects of space weather. That includes the Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies (SCALPSS), which will capture images of these dust plumes, and the Radio wave Observation at the Lunar Surface of the photoElectron Sheath (ROLSES) instrument.

The rest of the payloads on board Odysseus are commercial. Columbia Sportswear worked with Intuitive Machines to incorporate the brand’s Apollo-inspired Omni-Heat Infinity thermal reflective material, which is being used for this mission to help protect the cryogenic propulsion tank, according to Intuitive Machines. Students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University developed a camera system dubbed the EagleCam that will attempt to separate from the lander before it touches down and snap a picture of the moment from a third-person point of view. EagleCam is also equipped with an experimental dust-removal system.

Intuitive Machines

There are even some Jeff Koons sculptures heading to the moon, which will have physical and NFT counterparts back on Earth. In Koons’ Moon Phase piece, 125 small stainless steel sculptures of the moon at different phases are encased in a clear cube made by 4Space, with the names of important historical figures from around the world listed below each sphere. The International Lunar Observatory Association, based in Hawaii, and Canadensys Aerospace are sending a 1.3-pound dual-camera system called ILO-X, with which they’ll attempt to capture wide and narrow field images of the Milky Way from the moon.

Odysseus is also carrying small discs called “Lunagrams” from Galactic Legacy Labs that contain messages from Earth, including text, images, audio and archives from major databases such as the Arch Mission Foundation and the English-language version of Wikipedia. Similar archival materials were sent to space with Peregrine last month. The information technology company Lonestar plans to demonstrate its Disaster Recovery as a Service (DRaaS) by storing data on the lander and transmitting documents ( including the US Declaration of Independence) between Earth and the moon. It’ll follow this up with a prototype mini data center on Intuitive Machines’ next launch.

Now, the pressure is on for the Odysseus Nova-C lander to actually get to the lunar surface safely. This year started off rocky for moon missions, with the failure of Astrobotic’s Peregrine and a descent hiccup that caused JAXA’s SLIM spacecraft to faceplant into the lunar surface (though the latter was miraculously able to resume functions to some degree after a few days). Intuitive Machines will have other chances to get it right if it doesn’t this time — it has multiple missions already booked up — but only one private lander can be “first.”

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Japan's SLIM lunar probe returns to life more than a week after landing upside down

Japan's lunar lander has regained power a full nine days after it landed on the moon's surface nearly upside down and was subsequently switched off, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) announced. A change in the sun's position allowed the solar panels to receive light and charge the probe's battery, allowing JAXA to re-establish communication. 

Things were looking dire shortly after the SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) touched down. The agency immediately noticed a problem with power generation, but was able to launch a pair of probes onto the moon's surface. The Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2) snapped an incredible photo of SLIM, showing it to be upside down with its panels pointing away from the sun. The cause was found to be a malfunction of the main engine.

Communication with SLIM was successfully established last night, and operations resumed! Science observations were immediately started with the MBC, and we obtained first light for the 10-band observation. This figure shows the “toy poodle” observed in the multi-band observation.

— 小型月着陸実証機SLIM (@SLIM_JAXA) January 29, 2024

JAXA thought there was a chance the probe could recover once the sun's rays pointed more toward the solar panels, and that's exactly what transpired. Shortly after power was regained, it snapped another picture of a previously imaged rock formation called "toy poodle" using a multi-band spectral camera. The team is also targeting several other rocks with canine-themed names, including "St. Bernard," "Bulldog" and "Shibainu."

The upside-down landing may have seemed like an unrecoverable fault, but it looks like the mission can now proceed more or less as planned. While the baseball-sized LEV-2 explores the surface (relaying data via the LEV-1 probe, which also has two cameras), SLIM will grab whatever science it can. 

In any case, the mission was already deemed a success, as the primary goal was a precision landing. It did just that, hitting a spot just 55 meters (180 feet) of its target. It's not known how much longer SLIM can function, as it was never designed to survive a solar night and the next one happens on Thursday. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Japan’s SLIM lunar spacecraft landed upside down on the moon

Shortly after Japan’s space agency became the fifth country to land a spacecraft on the surface of the moon, its scientists discovered the Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) unfortunately touched down upside down. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said that the SLIM landed on the lunar surface on January 20 but it knew it might have bigger problems due to an issue with power generation. Just hours after making landfall, JAXA expected the power to run out, before it ultimately did.

SLIM met the moon’s surface about 55 meters east of the original target landing site, JAXA said. The agency did get all of the technical information related to its navigation prior to landing and ultimately becoming stationary on the lunar surface. JAXA captured photos of the SLIM from its The Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2, its fully autonomous robot currently exploring the moon.

The Lunar Excursion Vehicle 2 (LEV-2 / SORA-Q) has successfully taken an image of the #SLIM spacecraft on the Moon. LEV-2 is the world’s first robot to conduct fully autonomous exploration on the lunar surface.

— JAXA Institute of Space and Astronautical Science (@ISAS_JAXA_EN) January 25, 2024

The reason behind the main engine malfunctioning is under investigation by the space agency. There is a slim chance for regeneration because the solar cells that power the spacecraft are facing west, meaning there is a chance for SLIM recovery if enough light from the sun reaches the cells as more time passes. The SLIM JAXA team took to X earlier this week to write, “We are preparing for recovery.” The agency said it will “take the necessary preparations to gather more technical and scientific data from the spacecraft.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

NASA’s Ingenuity helicopter has gone silent on Mars

NASA is trying to figure out how to reach its Ingenuity Mars helicopter after losing contact with the craft earlier this week. During its 72nd flight — a “quick pop-up” to an altitude of about 40 feet — NASA says Ingenuity stopped communicating with the Perseverance rover before it was meant to. It went quiet on Thursday, and as of Friday evening, NASA still hadn’t heard from it.

Ingenuity sends its data to Perseverance, which then passes it on to Earth. According to NASA, the small helicopter completed the ascent as planned, but ceased communications while on its way back down. “The Ingenuity team is analyzing available data and considering next steps to reestablish communications with the helicopter,” NASA said in a status update on Friday. Ingenuity had previously ended a flight earlier than it was supposed to, and Thursday’s jaunt was meant to “check out the helicopter’s systems.”

Ingenuity has been on the red planet since 2021, when it arrived with the Perseverance rover. And it’s far exceeded its mission goals. NASA originally hoped the experimental helicopter would be able to complete a handful of flights; it went on to fly more than 20 times within its first year in operation. The space agency officially extended its mission in 2022, and it’s since executed dozens more more successful flights. Ingenuity is the first aircraft to take flight from the surface of Mars.

This article originally appeared on Engadget at

Scientists extract the sharpest image of a black hole yet

Black holes are one of the most powerful forces in the universe, but we had never seen one until the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) team released the first image back in 2019. Now, the EHT Collaboration has released the most detailed image yet of the same M87 black hole, created with the aid of an additional telescope, that better displays the insane physics behind these supermassive objects. 

The first image was captured in 2017 (it takes a long time to process the data) using eight high-altitude telescopes from locations including Chile and Antarctica. The complex technique required the synchronization of atomic clocks, use of the Earth's rotation and processing of petabytes of RAW telescope data. The result was slightly fuzzy, but clearly showed the expected "donut" with the black hole at the center and accretion disk made of matter inhaled from nearby stars. 

However, the EHT collaboration captured another image a year later using an additional telescope in Greenland. That "significantly" improved the image fidelity, particularly in the north-south direction, according to the EHT. One of the original platforms, The Large Millimeter Telescope, also gained sensitivity by using its full 50 meter surface for the first time. The teams also introduced new data analysis techniques that boosted accuracy.

The result is a sharper and brighter image that also clearly shows the Doppler/Einstein effects that cause a black hole to appear to be brighter on one side. That bright spot actually shifted to the right between the capture of the two images. 

"The biggest change, that the brightness peak shifted around the ring, is actually something we predicted when we published the first results in 2019," said Dr. Britt Jeter from Taiwan's ASIAA. "While general relativity says the ring size should stay pretty fixed, the emission from the turbulent, messy accretion disk around the black hole will cause the brightest part of the ring to wobble around a common center. The amount of wobble we see over time is something we can use to test our theories for the magnetic field and plasma environment around the black hole."

The new image also shows that the science behind the image technique is sound and reproduceable. "Confirmation of the ring in a completely new data set is a huge milestone for our collaboration and a strong indication that we are looking at a black hole shadow and the material orbiting around it," said Dr. Keiichi Asada from ASIAA. 

The EHT Collaboration will continue to advance the science with new observations set for the first half of 2024. At that time, scientists hope to capture multiple images to create the first "video" of a black hole to show its chaotic movements. As before, it could take several years (and the participation of many scientists) to get the final result. 

This article originally appeared on Engadget at