Intuitive Machines IM-1 heading for Moon on SpaceX rocket

Taking Disaster Recovery as a Service to lunar extremes

NASA is taking another crack at a commercial mission to the Moon with the launch of the Intuitive Machines' IM-1 mission this morning.

The mission, using a Space Falcon 9 rocket, was due to launch on February 14, but the lift-off was scrubbed due to "off-nominal methane temperatures prior to stepping into methane load," according to SpaceX.

The lunar lander uses a combination of liquid methane and liquid oxygen.

The launch into a lunar transfer orbit went ahead at 0605 UTC on February 15 from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It was the 18th flight of the first stage Falcon 9 booster, previous missions of which included 12 Starlink launches.

The IM-1 mission, which uses Intuitive Machines' Nova-C class lunar lander, was launched on a direct trajectory to the Moon and is expected to land within nine days. If it manages a soft landing planned for the south pole of the Moon, the lander, dubbed Odysseus, is expected to survive seven days before the lunar night sets, after which it will be inoperable.

The mission is part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, and the agency has six payloads onboard the lander, including a laser retroflector array to act as a location marker on the Moon and a cubesat to demonstrate navigation and communication functionality.

As well as NASA's payloads, the lander is also carrying some commercial items, including a technology demonstrator for Lonestar's Disaster Recovery as a Service. The plan is to transmit a copy of the US Declaration of Independence to the spacecraft and receive a copy of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights back from the Moon.

According to Lonestar, the demonstration is a key test of its lunar datacenters concept.

The Nova-C is slightly taller than an old British Police Box, made famous by the science fiction television series Doctor Who. Its hull measures 1.6 meters in diameter, and the diameter of its landing gear is 4.6 meters. The vehicle weighs in at 675 kg, and its maximum payload capacity is 130 kg.

Landing on the Moon has presented a challenge for commercial companies. The most recent US effort, which utilized Astrobotics' Peregrine lander, suffered a propellant leak shortly after launch and eventually reentered the Earth's atmosphere without reaching the Moon.

Intuitive Machines has 16 success criteria, ending with a landing on the lunar surface. So far, it has achieved two – launching and separating from the SpaceX launch vehicle. It should currently be undergoing autonomous commissioning, in which the lander will use its cold-gas helium reaction control system to direct the vehicle's attitude, use its star trackers to position itself correctly, and get its solar panels illuminated by the Sun.

Once this is done, controllers should be able to communicate with the spacecraft and fire up its engine for further commissioning and trajectory adjustments. ®

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