Intuitive Machines will attempt to reach the Moon with the first private lunar lander

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Intuitive machines is looking to succeed where past projects have failed with its inaugural lunar lander mission, which would mark the first time a private company has landed a spacecraft on the moon – ever.

The mission is set to lift off aboard a SpaceX rocket tomorrow at 12:57 a.m. EST from the launch company’s launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. If the launch is delayed, SpaceX will have additional opportunities on February 15 and 16.

If all goes according to plan, after a journey of about seven days, the spacecraft will enter lunar orbit. About 24 hours later, on February 22, the Nova-C lander will gently touch down on the Moon’s surface. The lander targets an area near a crater called Malapert A, near the lunar south pole, an area suspected of harboring an abundance of frozen water.

The two companies announced Monday that they were ready to begin the launch, saying in a statement that they had completed data analysis from the lunar lander’s latest refueling tests. These tests were critical because of the Nova-C lander’s unique propellant system: it uses liquid oxygen and methane propellants that must be charged while the lander is encapsulated in the Falcon 9. (Usually, spacecraft are fueled before being loaded onto the rocket.)

The IM-1 mission – a first for Intuitive Machines – marks the second time this year that a US company has attempted to land a spacecraft on the Moon. The first mission, led by Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, ended very quickly after the spacecraft suffered a catastrophic propulsion leak.

Intuitive Machines’ mission also follows that of Japanese company ispace, whose own lander experienced a software glitch just above the lunar surface, causing the spacecraft to misjudge its distance from the surface and crashing.

Indeed, recent successes on the lunar surface can be claimed by governments, notably that of India. Chandrayaan-3 lunar mission last August and the Japanese SLIM lander which landed (Upside down) in January. But landing on the Moon is difficult, and even nations have had failures; a recent notable example is that of the Israeli Beresheet lander, which also crashed on the moon in 2019.

The 14-foot-tall spacecraft carries six science and research payloads for NASA, which ordered the launch for about $118 million as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Astrobotic was also a CLPS winner. The lander, called Odysseus, will also carry payloads for a handful of commercial customers.

But whether or not it succeeds in this first mission, Intuitive Machines has already landed additional contracts with NASA for two other lunar missions: one which could take place in the fourth quarter of this year and a third planned for early 2025.

EspaceX will host a live broadcast of the launch on its website.

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