NASA is relying on private industry partners for operations during its Artemis programme, an ambitious return to the Moon setting the stage for future deep flight missions to Mars and beyond. NASA plans to ferry commercial payloads to the lunar surface with a regular cadence with its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, a part of the Artemis programme. Just last month, Astrobotic concluded its Peregrine Mission One, that developed a leak in its fuel tanks and could not make it to the lunar surface, and instead burned up in the atmosphere of the Earth. Now, another private US spaceflight company is attempting to reach the lunar surface.
Intuitive Machines has developed its Nova-C series of lunar landers, and the first mission is headed to the Oceanus Procellarum, a dark lava plain on the near side of the Moon. A SpaceX Falcon 9 will launch the spacecraft, with the launch window opening up at 12:57 hours EST or 11:27 hours IST on 14 February, 2024. The lander is named Odysseus. The launch vehicle will lift off from Launch Complex 39A, a launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. If the mission goes according to plan, then Nova-C will be on the lunar surface on 22 February, 2024.
The Odysseus lander will be touching down in the middle of the lunar day, allowing IM and its paying customers to operate the payloads on board for a period of seven days. The only source of power for the lander on the lunar surface is the solar panels on board, and there is no heat source, which means that the sensitive electronics instruments are not likely to survive the harsh lunar nights, when temperatures can dip below -270ºC. If the landing is successful, Odysseus will be the first of NASA’s CLPS missions to actually make it to the lunar surface.