A new private moon-landing mission could launch as soon as November.
Intuitive Machines says its moon lander could be ready for liftoff as soon as Nov. 15, pending last-minute preparation. This so far positions the company to be the first private venture to safely touch down on the moon.
“Our Nova-C lander is completely built,” Steve Altemus, co-founder and chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said in an earnings call Monday (Aug 15) attended by Ars Technica. “We will deliver a lunar lander ready to go in September.”
The launch date on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, however, depends on the busy schedule at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Altemus acknowledged. The existing window runs through Nov. 20, with a backup opportunity in December.
The Houston-based company’s IM-1 mission is funded by the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program that aims to put science and hardware on the moon. CLPS is partly in support of the greater Artemis program that aims to land astronauts at the moon’s south pole by the middle of the decade, at the earliest.
NASA asked earlier this year to move the landing location for IM-1 to the moon’s south pole, instead of a more equatorial region, to put it in line with the landing zone for Artemis 3 that is planned for no earlier than 2025. IM-1’s launch was delayed by several months as a result of the decision. But in the intervening time, no other private mission has yet touched down on the moon.
The private Japanese Hakuto-R mission by ispace apparently crashed during an attempted landing in April. Another moon-landing effort using Israel’s Beresheet lander by SpaceIL also failed in 2019 during that country’s debut lunar surface attempt.
Another U.S. company funded by CLPS, Astrobotic, has its Peregrine landing mission on hold following delays with the new United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket set to launch it. Centaur may now fly in late 2023 with Peregrine, at the earliest.
Other landing missions are in the works with CLPS as well, but Peregrine and IM-1 appear closest to launch given recent announcements.