The American company Intuitive Machines will soon try 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, will be launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on February 14. It will travel atop 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 demonstrating that a private company can land on the Moon, is to transport six NASA payloads and five commercial payloads to the lunar surface. NASA’s instruments include tools to study how the landing itself expels plumes of lunar dust, several devices to help the spacecraft 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 dropped outside the lander before it lands to take photographs of the landing, 125 small sculptures by artist Jeff Koons and a chip designed to establish an archive of human knowledge about 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 launch in January that prevented it from reaching the moon.
There have been two other 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 the others failed, Intuitive Machines’ 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 scheduled for March 2024.