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US spacecraft set to attempt historic moon landing

A privately owned spacecraft is on track to make history as it attempts to land on the Moon following a week-long voyage.

The Nova-C Odysseus lander, built by Texas-based space flight company Intuitive Machines, is in lunar orbit and will try to land on the Moon’s south pole region at 10.49pm tonight.

If successful, it would become the first private mission to land intact on the lunar surface.

Odysseus would also be the first US Moon landing since the final mission of the Apollo programme – Apollo 17, more than 50 years ago.

The spacecraft blasted off last week from Cape Canaveral in Florida on top of a Falcon 9 rocket made by Elon Musk’s company SpaceX.

Since then, it has performed a series of manoeuvres during its 386,240km journey.

Odysseus is a hexagonal cylinder about 4m tall and 1.57m wide and weighs 675kg.

It is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which aims to involve commercial companies in the exploration of the Moon.

If successful, Odysseus could pave the way for astronauts to land on the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis programme.

The spacecraft will aim to land on Malapert A, a crater 186 miles from the Moon’s south pole.

The south pole is thought to contain water ice, which would be a valuable resource for future human exploration.

Once safely on the surface, it will operate for roughly a week before the lunar night sets on the south pole of the Moon.

It comes a month after another US spacecraft, Peregrine, failed to touch down following a fuel leak.

The failure of Peregrine, operated by US company Astrobotic, marked the third time a private company had been unable to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface.

The Beresheet lander, built by Israel’s SpaceIL, crashed during descent in 2019 while the Hakuto-R M1 lander, from Japanese company ispace, was destroyed while attempting to land in April last year.

Controlled Moon landings have only been performed by government agencies including the US, Soviet Union, China, India and Japan.

On board Odysseus are 12 payloads, which include a Nasa instrument known as Scalpss (Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies) – a four-camera system which aims to capture Odysseus’s descent to the lunar surface.

The lander will also be carrying a set of 125 tiny sculptures – called Moon Phases – created by American artist Jeff Koons.

Odysseus is insulated with a lightweight fabric – a shimmery gold material that normally lines the insides of ski jackets – made by US sports apparel company Columbia Sportswear.

Once landing sequences are initiated, the onboard software on Odysseus will select a safe landing site that is free from hazards.

When it is 30m above the designated landing site, Odysseus will go into a vertical descent at 3m per second.

Once it reaches 10m above surface, the lander will break to a 1m per second descent to prepare for a soft landing.

No cameras or lasers will be guiding the spacecraft at this point because of the lunar dust kicking up from the lander’s engine, according to IM.

The company said the descent will be “like walking towards a door and closing your eyes the last three feet”.

It said: “You know you’re close enough, but your inner ear must lead you through the door.”

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