The US company Intuitive Machines will soon attempt to become the first private firm to land a spacecraft on the moon. Three previous efforts by other companies have failed, highlighting the treacherous path ahead of Intuitive Machines’s Nova-C lander.
The spacecraft, nicknamed Odysseus, is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida on 14 February. It will travel atop a Falcon 9 rocket manufactured by SpaceX. If the mission, called IM-1, goes well, Odysseus should land near the south pole of the moon on 22 February.
The goal of the IM-1 mission, aside from proving that a private company can land on the moon, is to carry six NASA payloads and five commercial payloads to the lunar surface. The NASA instruments include tools to study how the landing itself blows up plumes of moon dust, several devices to help the craft land safely and a device to measure radio waves and how they affect the lunar surface. The commercial payloads include a camera that will be tossed off the lander before it touches down to take photographs of the landing, 125 tiny sculptures by artist Jeff Koons and a chip designed to establish an archive of human knowledge on the moon.
IM-1 is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which awards government contracts to private companies with the goal of accelerating exploration and developing a lunar economy. This is the second CLPS mission – the first, Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, suffered a fuel leak shortly after its January launch that prevented it from reaching the moon.
There have been two other attempts by private companies to land on the moon – SpaceIL’s Beresheet craft and ispace’s Hakuto-R – but both crash-landed and were destroyed. If Odysseus succeeds where the others failed, Intuitive Machines’s next step is to send another Nova-C lander, equipped with a drill to harvest underground ice, to the moon’s south pole. That mission is planned for March 2024.