Intuitive Machines, the company behind the NASA-funded IM-1 mission moon lander, has announced a multi-day launch window starting on January 12, 2024. The excitement builds as the lunar lander, named Nova-C, will hitch a ride on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Florida’s Space Coast. The target destination is the rim of Malapert A, a crater near the lunar south pole. Steve Altemus, co-founder and CEO of Intuitive Machines, expressed the company’s anticipation, having completed the lunar lander in September.
The Nova-C, a truck-sized hexagonal cylinder with six landing legs, is set to carry five NASA science payloads, weighing nearly 2,000 kg. But this mission is not just about a lunar landing; it serves as a precursor for NASA’s human spaceflight missions on the moon. Acting as a scout for the Artemis 3 crewed landing, Nova-C aims to launch for the moon’s south pole no earlier than 2025. In a friendly race to be the first private venture to safely land on the moon, Intuitive Machines faces competition from Astrobotic, which plans to launch its Peregrine lander on the debut flight of United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket on December 24. Both missions are part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, a crucial aspect of NASA’s broader Artemis program. CLPS aims to bring robotic payloads to the moon’s south pole, a region rich in water that holds promise for mining and logistical support, aligning with astronauts’ future landing plans.