SpaceX to Launch Third Lunar Probe for Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines’ Steven G. Labbe Discusses Work on the Nova-C Lander

Intuitive Machines recently signed deals with SpaceX to launch two of its automated Nova-C lunar landers on Falcon 9 rockets. Now it has signed a deal with SpaceX to launch a third one as early as 2024.

Two of the Nova-C landers are slated to launch in 2022. The one officially labeled IM-1 will launch in Q1 2022. IM-2 will launch in Q4 2022. One of the landers had initially been slated to launch in late 2021, but SpaceX couldn’t fit it into its already-packed launch schedule this year.

The Nova-C landers are capable of delivering payloads of up to 130 kilograms to the lunar surface. The payload for the Nova-C launches will also include a rideshare dispenser ring that can deliver a total of 1,000 kilograms’ worth of payload into lunar orbit, with the possibility of retrieving the orbiting payloads at a later date. According to Intuitive Machines, payloads attached to the dispenser ring can also be delivered to other locations throughout the solar system.

“We’re offering our customers more than lunar surface payload delivery and extreme surface mobility. Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating, and commanding customer payloads on and around the moon is revolutionary. Now, we’re proving we can do it at an annual cadence,” says Intuitive Machines president and chief executive Steve Altemus.

The first Nova-C landers are being launched as part of Intuitive Machines’ contract with NASA for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. This program is designed to support the Artemis Program, which will return American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Program, by delivering supplies and advance scouting capability in the form of landers and rovers.

NASA is especially interested in searching for the presence of frozen water in areas like the lunar south pole that get very little direct sunlight. Resources like water could be extracted locally to support long-duration lunar missions.

An explanation of why the lunar south pole is such an attractive candidate for a future crewed landing site.

CLPS is shaping up to be a lucrative program for SpaceX as both a contractor and a launch provider for other aerospace companies with contracts from NASA. SpaceX also has a contract to launch the VIPER rover for NASA’s exploration of the South Pole as a likely crewed landing site. It will also launch the first components of the Lunar Gateway on a Falcon Heavy.

SpaceX did move one step closer to finally being cleared to continue development on the Starship-derived, crew-rated lunar lander for the Artemis Program after the Government Accountability Office rejected challenges from competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics. The award for the lunar lander would have been a lucrative one for any aerospace company that was in the running, but SpaceX’s bid came in at the lowest cost at $2.89 billion dollars and it demonstrated the best capability for actually landing crews on the Moon. SpaceX also has the most experience at flying actual crews in a privately owned spacecraft with three crewed flights to the International Space Station as part of its Commercial Crew contract.

For now, though, SpaceX is playing a large role in preparations for the Artemis Program with contracts for launch services of lunar landers like Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C landers.