US company Intuitive Machines is soon to become the first private company to land a spacecraft on the moon. Three previous efforts by other companies have failed, highlighting the perilous path ahead for Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander.
The spacecraft, nicknamed Odysseus, is scheduled to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on February 14. It will fly aboard a Falcon 9 rocket manufactured by SpaceX. If the mission, called IM-1, goes well, Odysseus should land near the moon's south pole on February 22.
The goal of the IM-1 mission, in addition to proving that private companies can land on the moon, is to deliver six NASA payloads and five commercial payloads to the lunar surface. NASA's equipment includes tools to study how the landing itself blows away plumes of lunar dust, several instruments to help the aircraft land safely, and to measure radio waves and make sure they are on the moon's surface. Contains equipment to measure how it affects Commercial payloads include a camera that will be dumped from the lander before landing to take photos of the landing, and 125 small sculptures by artist Jeff Koons, designed to establish an archive of human knowledge on the lunar surface. Includes tip.
IM-1 is part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, a series of government and private sector contracts designed to accelerate exploration and develop the lunar economy. This is his second mission in CLPS. The first mission, Astrobotic's Peregrine lander, suffered a fuel leak shortly after liftoff in January and failed to reach the moon.
There have been two attempts by private companies to land on the moon, SpaceIL's Beresheet spacecraft and iSpace's Hakuto-R, but both crash-landed and were destroyed. If Odysseus succeeds where other landers have failed, Intuitive Machines' next step will be to send another Nova-C lander to the moon's south pole, equipped with a drill to harvest subsurface ice. That mission is planned for March 2024.