Intuitive Machines lunar lander on its way to the Moon after SpaceX launch


Intuitive Machines’ first mission to the Moon is underway.

The company’s Nova-C lander, called Odysseus, blasted off aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket early Thursday morning. The spacecraft will now embark on an eight-day journey to the Moon, with a landing attempt planned for February 22.

The spacecraft will first enter lunar orbit 24 hours before the landing attempt and will circle the Moon at an altitude of only 100 kilometers. The lander will then attempt to land near the Malapert A crater, near the Moon’s south pole. On board Odysseus are 6 scientific and research payloads for NASA and six commercial payloads; the goal is that those needing access to the lunar surface can operate for up to seven days, until lunar night sets in.

One of the big challenges will come about 18 months after launch, when mission controllers prepare for an “engine commissioning maneuver,” when the main engine first fires up. This engine uses liquid oxygen and liquid methane as propellants (similar to many rockets), which are difficult to store but very efficient. During this maneuver, engineers will be able to adjust the trajectory of the lander.

The lander will perform two more burns to correct its trajectory before the spacecraft attempts to burn it to insert it into lunar orbit. Flight controllers will perform this maneuver blindly, as the spacecraft will be on the far side of the Moon and will not be able to send real-time updates. To descend, Ulysses will have to reduce his speed by approximately 1,800 meters per second; For the final 10 kilometer descent, the spacecraft will slow down to a speed of one meter per second.

“Walking down from the terminal is like walking towards a gate and closing your eyes for the last three meters,” the company said. in a press kit on the mission. “You know you’re close enough, but your inner ear has to guide you to the door.”

If the venture is successful, it will be the first time the United States has landed a spacecraft on the Moon since 1972 and the first time a privately made spacecraft has landed on the Moon.

This is a big moment for Houston-based Intuitive Machines, which has been developing technology for the Moon – and working on this particular lander – for years. The company went public via a SPAC merger last February to accelerate its plans, which include this mission and two additional missions to the Moon for NASA already under contract.

This morning’s launch was also an important moment for NASA, which paid Intuitive Machines about $118 million for the mission through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. This is only the second lunar mission launched under the CLPS program; the first, Astrobotic’s Peregrine mission last month, failed to reach the moon due to a catastrophic propulsion leak.

However, NASA officials are taking a longer-term view of the program, with NASA’s deputy administrator for exploration in the Science Mission Directorate saying at a pre-launch news conference that these missions are “a learning experience”.

“We didn’t think success was assured,” he said.


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