Intuitive Machines LLC has its sights set on a mid-2021 launch for the autonomous delivery of scientific and commercial payloads to the surface of the moon.
Houston-based Intuitive Machines has been developing the Nova-C class moon lander as a component of the company’s Lunar Payloads and Data Service (LPDS) program. A 3,300-pound Nova-C lander delivers payloads in seven berths to the lunar surface on a single flight and provides power, computation, and data relay services in support of each payload.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has awarded Intuitive Machines a Commercial Lunar Payload Services contract and is an anchor customer to the LPDS program.
The Nova-C landers are launched on available rockets outfitted with fairings three or five meters in diameter and can also release small satellites into lunar orbit prior to landing.
The Nova-C lander design provides a technology platform that scales to mid- and large-scale lander classes, capable of accommodating much larger payloads. The Nova-C design also supports positioning communication satellites in cis-lunar orbit and functions as a payload cycler between the lunar surface and a human-occupied orbiting platform.
“We are extremely excited to be developing the Nova-C spacecraft/lunar lander line and look forward to landing payloads on the moon in 2021,” Steve Altemus, Intuitive Machines president and chief executive, said.
Altemus said researchers and agencies have voiced substantial interest in placing scientific instruments, communication assets, and other equipment on the lunar surface, an aspiration met by the Nova-C line of landers.
Prior to cofounding Intuitive Machines in July 2013, Altemus, an aerospace engineer, served as the deputy director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Formerly, he was the space center’s director of engineering, guiding 2,800 employees through the conceptualization, design, development, testing and evaluation of aerospace systems for use in human, robotic, and automated space flight for low earth orbit and deep-space missions.
The Intuitive Machines team includes many former veterans of NASA’s advanced development and autonomous systems efforts, including Project M and Project Morpheus, which were involved in demonstrating system autonomy, rapid development, hazard detection, and methane propulsion technologies for lunar-exploration missions.
“We have put together a world-class team specifically designed to develop and execute the end-to-end mission of landing and supporting payloads on the moon commercially,” Altemus said.
Intuitive Machines is developing Nova-C landers at a company facility at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport and currently has private investor commitments of more than $45 million dedicated to the LPDS program.
“Each of the Nova-C systems are already at a very high technology readiness level, and many of them are complete or off the shelf,” Dr. Tim Crain, the Lunar Payloads and Data Service program’s engineering director, said.