Monday, February 26, 2024

Interesting Developments from the Moon

A pair of interesting developments made news today from the two lunar landers currently near the south pole.  JAXA's SLIM woke up while Intuitive Machines Odysseus (Odie) appears to be in its last moments.  

Good news first, and kudos to YouTuber The Angry Astronaut for catching this story and bringing it to us.  

For the first time since the mid-60s, a lunar lander without a nuclear-based way to keep batteries from freezing has survived the night and woken up.  Check out this short video.

"Last night, a command was sent to #SLIM and a response received, confirming that the spacecraft has made it through the lunar night and maintained communication capabilities," wrote officials with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) in English [posted to X - SiG]. The electronics were operational despite surface temperatures being at 212 Fahrenheit (100 Celsius), the team wrote in Japanese in another post machine-translated by Google.

"If we continue to communicate, things will get even hotter, so yesterday I decided to communicate for a while and then take a break again," JAXA's post continued, appearing to be playfully impersonating the lander.

The lander is not just awake, but returning photos taken with its navigational camera of areas it didn't photograph before.  In an abundance of caution, JAXA is taking it easy with lunar temperatures of 100C and commanding a low duty cycle of operation.  Most of you will recognized that mil-spec (883B) and space-rated electronic components are typically certified to operate at 125C and special certifications at higher temperatures can be bought, but not for every part type.  I'm not going to predict what the temperatures of semiconductors inside the packages on the moon might be, but many of us have tested buttloads of things at 125C and more of you readers have operated systems that were at those sorts of temperatures.

Unfortunately, the news of Odysseus (which IM affectionately calls 'Odie') isn't as good.  Time may be running out for the little lander.  

In an update posted on Monday morning, the company that built the spacecraft, Intuitive Machines, said, "[W]e believe flight controllers will continue to communicate with Odysseus until Tuesday morning." This is because the lander, which is tipped over on its side, will only be able to collect solar energy for a limited period of time.

Originally, the company had hoped to operate its privately developed lunar lander on the surface for a week or longer. But now, that will no longer be possible due to the limited ability of Odysseus to gather solar energy and remain powered on. As the Sun dips closer to the horizon, and with the two-week-long lunar night coming, the spacecraft will, effectively, freeze to death.

I don't know if their assessment was made with knowledge of what JAXA revealed about SLIM, or if it's based on hard numbers they're collecting, but I suspect it's based on their numbers.  

Earlier in the day, I stumbled across a different video from headlining the first pic from Odie, as well as of Odie.  The pictures of the lander were from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) taken over the weekend.  Personally I get almost nothing out of the picture.  All I can tell you is it has some vertical lines in this pic that don't look like a natural formation, but I have no doubt those intimately familiar with the lander will get more out of than I could.

Screen capture out of that video. 

The press conference on Friday was much more optimistic than today's story, talking about it having about nine days left (six from Monday), or the rest of the lunar day it landed on.  Today's story about lasting until some time Tuesday is a big departure from that. 

It's possible they'll be able to complete some of the things they talked about in that press conference that will add to the mission's accomplishments.  If not, it will be a qualified success, limited to what we've seen already. 

The mission has achieved some notable firsts. No privately developed spacecraft has ever made a soft landing on the Moon before, and it is important that Intuitive Machines has been able to maintain contact with the lander for several days. And at 80 degrees south, no spacecraft has ever made a soft landing so close to a lunar pole.


  1. Love the Angry Astronaut. He pointed me in the direction (on X) of an academic paper for one of my posts.

  2. if the lander has them, nothing to lose, attempt to get it upright using steering thrusters? or roll to were its solar cells point in a better direction.

    1. As of this morning (Wednesday), the lander is still functioning and they're still getting downloads of images and data from most of the private companies' payloads. I guess the extrapolation of it "freezing to death" on Tuesday were a bit overstated.

      Yesterday, Eric Berger at Ars Technica did a very interesting article, an interview with one of the founders of Intuitive Machines that's quite a read. Turns out the probe landed without an altimeter and broke a leg. Didn't quite trip over a rock as they first said. It broke the leg, landed and then the leg collapsed.

      On the mission website they announced a press conference with NASA today at 2:00 PM Eastern.

    2. interesting how every probe has failed of late. must be our reptilian overlords the Draco's have a base near the south pole. maybe its an alien version of cow tipping. lol's!