Happy Valentine’s Day, space fans: Intuitive Machines, SpaceX target moon mission lift off on Feb 14

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Intuitive Machines is ready to go to the moon. The company announced Monday that its first lunar lander has completed all final integration milestones and is now encapsulated in SpaceX’s Falcon 9 payload fairing, where it will stay until launch on February 14.

The mission launch window opens at 12:57 a.m. EST; should weather or other issues delay the mission, SpaceX will have three days to execute the launch. The tight timeline comes down to the details of the mission: The lander is taking a direct trajectory to the moon, and it is targeting a site near the lunar south pole, where specific lighting conditions for landing are only available a few days each month.

This will be Intuitive Machines’ first lunar mission. The Houston-based company was founded 11 years ago by Stephen Altemus, who serves as president and CEO; Tim Crain, CTO; and prolific space industry entrepreneur Kam Ghaffarian. The company was early to see the commercial promise of the moon; it received its contract from NASA for this mission back in 2019. More recently, Intuitive Machines went public via a merger with a special purpose acquisition company in February 2023, though the transaction generated less capital than was initially projected.

There will likely be a lot of eyes on the mission, given that it follows on the heels of an unsuccessful attempt by another American company, Astrobotic, whose lander failed to reach the moon due to a disastrous propellant leak. That spacecraft burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere as part of a coordinated reentry plan on January 18.

Both companies were selected for their respective missions as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, designed to solicit transportation services to the moon from private industry. In total, NASA is paying Intuitive Machines $118 million to deliver its six science and technology payloads to the lunar surface.

The CLPS program is also a key part of the agency’s Artemis program; the idea is that commercial providers deliver scientific payloads to the surface, which will collect data and inform future crewed moon missions.

Intuitive Machines is hoping to pave the way for commercial success in the nascent lunar economy, with the company working on not just lunar landers but a lunar data relay service, a lunar rover and other technologies and services for both the moon’s surface and cislunar space.

“The IM-1 mission’s success will lay the groundwork for a burgeoning lunar economy, opening new possibilities for research, commerce, and exploration,” the company said in a press kit published last week. “By advancing our capabilities to operate on the lunar surface, the mission sets the stage for more ambitious endeavors, including the establishment of lunar bases and the exploration of potential resources.”

In addition to the six NASA payloads, the lander will also carry a handful of commercial payloads for customers including Columbia Sportswear and the contemporary artist Jeff Koons. The lander, dubbed Odysseus, is expected to operate for seven days on the moon before the long and cold lunar night sets in.

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