On October 2nd, Intuitive Machines unveiled its robotic lunar lander Nova-C to the world before packing it up for transfer to Florida in preparation for the launch. The probe could become the first U.S.-built vehicle to land on the Moon since NASA‘s Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
“I hope it works. It seems like it might be possible, and it’s very positive for us” said Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines, during the open day at the operations center located at the Houston spaceport. “But every step closer to the goal is a success in itself that should be celebrated”.
IM-1 mission will carry NASA’s instruments destined for the lunar South Pole region under a contract with the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. Nova-C lander will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on November 16th and will attempt to land on the Moon six days after launch.
“Nova comes from a bright star in the sky” Altemus explained the spacecraft’s name. “C is the Roman numeral 100, which corresponds to the payload it can carry, 100 kilograms of payload”. Nova-C lunar lander stands 4.3 meters tall, with a hexagonal-shaped hull weighing 675 kilograms. Its main engine is powered by a liquid methane and liquid oxygen engine called VR900.
Among NASA’s payloads are a radio receiver system to measure the plasma in the environment that future Artemis astronauts will encounter. Additionally, there are laser retroreflectors, similar to those left by Apollo astronauts to measure precise distances, and a LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)-based sensor that will provide velocity and range detection during descent.
As a commercial spacecraft, Nova-C also carries EagleCam. The camera system was designed by the University of Florida to capture the first third-person image of a spacecraft landing on a celestial body. EagleCam will also test an electrostatic dust removal system that could lead to future advancements in spacesuit technology.
Lonestar Data Holdings, on the other hand, will demonstrate customer document storage on board the Nova-C lander. This will enable the uploading and downloading of documents to and from the Moon. Additionally, Galactic Legacy Labs’ Lunaprise will archive The Humanity Hall of Fame, with various messages on disks to show future civilizations how we lived.
The Nova-C lunar lander is part of a heated competition to become the first American vehicle to return to the lunar surface. Astrobotic is preparing its Peregrine lander for the first flight of the United Launch Alliance‘s Vulcan rocket later this year. Which of these landers will be launched first depends on a series of factors, including the availability of the launch window and final preparations for the spacecraft’s flight in Florida.
“It’s mostly integration” said Jack Fischer, vice president for operations at Intuitive Machines and former NASA astronaut. “We take the legs off the ship, and once we get down there, we do some testing to make sure nothing happens during transport, but then it’s mostly about integrating with the rocket. SpaceX wants a 35-day window for the shipment. We have a good margin, not much work” Fischer reiterated.