Intuitive Machines spacecraft launches, aims for lunar landing next week

The Nova-C lunar lander at the Intuitive Machines Headquarters in Houston. The Nova-C lunar lander at the Intuitive Machines Headquarters in Houston. Credit: Intuitive Machines / NASA.

The second mission of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program is on its way to the Moon. A Falcon 9 rocket launched the first Intuitive Machines Nova-C lunar lander (IM-1) in the early hours of Thursday, Feb. 15.  The spacecraft is expected to land on the Moon’s south pole region on Thursday, Feb. 22. If successful, IM-1 will achieve the first American lunar landing since 1972.

IM-1 will attempt to capture the first third-person images of the lunar landing. During its descent to the lunar surface, IM-1 will deploy the EagleCam CubeSat, which will attempt to take photos from the ground of the spacecraft landing.

“NASA scientific instruments are on their way to the Moon – a giant leap for humanity as we prepare to return to the lunar surface for the first time in more than half a century,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “These daring Moon deliveries will not only conduct new science at the Moon, but they are supporting a growing commercial space economy while showing the strength of American technology and innovation.”

The lander is carrying six NASA instruments. Among these are the Laser Retroreflector Array, a collection of eight retroreflectors that measure distances between orbiting and landing spacecraft. These will function as location markers for future lunar spacecraft.

A Second CLPS Attempt

The launch comes roughly a month after the first CLPS mission failed to reach the Moon’s surface. A rocky start to NASA’s commercial lunar lander efforts, the Peregrine Mission One launched on January 8, but experienced a propellant leak only a few hours later. The spacecraft never left Earth’s orbit. Six days after launch, Peregrine Mission One re-entered Earth’s atmosphere.

The third CLPS mission, Intuitive Machines 2, is expected to launch in Q2 of this year.

Read more about lunar landing efforts in the 2024 Q1 edition of The Space Report, releasing April 8.

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