Intuitive Machines delays the NASA-funded IM-1 mission. The Nova-C lander will be launched to the Moon, in collaboration with SpaceX, in a new launch window starting from January 12, 2024. “Intuitive Machines completed its lunar lander in September. The whole company is looking forward to the launch” stated Steve Altemus, co-founder, and CEO of the company, in a statement on October 27 (ref.).
A dress rehearsal for Artemis
IM-1 will use SpaceX’s Falcon-9 carrier from the Cape Canaveral Space Station. Nova-C lander of the mission will target the Malapert A rim, a crater near the lunar south pole. Llast scheduled launch date for the mission was November 2023. Speaking about the new delay, Altemus stated that there are “inherent challenges to lunar missions” including changes to launch dates, made in collaboration with SpaceX.
The truck-sized Nova-C is a hexagonal cylinder with 6 landing legs. It measures about 4 meters in height and 1.6 meters in width. The two-ton lander will take off carrying five NASA scientific payloads. In addition to aiming for a lunar landing, Nova-C will serve as a dress rehearsal for NASA’s human missions to the Moon.
It will serve as a pathfinder for the crewed landing of Artemis 3, which is targeting the lunar south pole no earlier than 2025. NASA’s Artemis Program has already launched Artemis 1 unmanned around the Moon in 2022. Today with Artemis 2, it aims to take a crew of four astronauts on a similar mission in 2024.
Contenders in the race to the Moon
Intuitive Machines is engaged in an informal race to be the first private enterprise to safely land on the Moon. Astrobotic, which is aiming to launch its Peregrine lander on the debut flight of the United Launch Alliance‘s (ULA) new Vulcan Centaur rocket on December 11th, 2024.
Both missions are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. A branch of the Artemis program. CLPS will bring robotic payloads to the Moon’s south pole, where astronauts also aim to land. The water-rich region could enable mining and logistical support.
Israel also attempted, unsuccessfully, to land the first privately funded mission, called Beresheet, on the Moon in 2019. Japanese Ispace failed its private Hakuto-R landing mission in 2022. The Russian government was unable to execute the planned moon landing in August 2023. Only the Indians have had a spectacular success with Chandrayaan-3.