Sunday, September 24, 2023

Intuitive Machines moves landing site of first mission to lunar south pole

WASHINGTON — Intuitive Machines is moving the landing site for its first lunar lander mission to the south polar region of the moon, a decision that will generate more revenue for the company but could delay the lander’s launch.

Intuitive Machines announced Feb. 6 that its IM-1 lander mission had been moved to the south polar region of the moon. The company had previously planned to land the spacecraft in a valley in Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms, citing flat terrain that was preferred for the landing and abundant sunlight throughout the two-week lunar day.

The company said in a statement that it worked with NASA to identify a new landing site to support the Artemis lunar exploration campaign, which plans to land crewed missions near the south pole as soon as 2025 where astronauts can access potential water ice deposits.

“Redirecting Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 mission landing site is a testament to our collective commitment to supporting NASA’s Artemis program and advancing lunar exploration for the benefit of humanity,” Steve Altemus, president and chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said in the statement.

The announcement did not disclose a specific landing site, but company spokesperson Josh Marshall told SpaceNews that the new landing site is at Malapert A, a crater near the south pole previously identified as a potential landing site for lunar expeditions. He confirmed that NASA requested the change in the landing site.

The lander is carrying payloads for NASA through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The company won a task order in May 2019 for the mission, originally valued at $77 million.

Intuitive Machines said in its announcement that the change in landing sites “is expected to positively impact Intuitive Machines’ backlog,” but didn’t elaborate. Marshall said that NASA is increasing the value of the CLPS task order to accommodate the change, but deferred questions about the revised dollar value to NASA. An agency spokesperson did not respond to questions Feb. 6 about the announcement, including the change in contract value.

The company announcement also stated that the landing is now planned for late June. That appears to be a slip from previous announcements that targeted a launch in the first quarter of 2023, including a NASA presentation in December that, like a recent change in the landing site for Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, featured the new IM-1 landing site.

Marshall declined to state if the launch had been delayed, saying only that the company was “actively working” on a revised trajectory analysis. Intuitive Machines had previously emphasized that its landers would fly relatively direct trajectories to the moon that would allow them to arrive in just three to six days, including a tweet by the company earlier this month.

The announcement of the new landing site comes as Intuitive Machines prepares to complete its merger, announced in September, with a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) called Inflection Point Acquisition Corporation. The SPAC’s shareholders are scheduled to vote Feb. 8 on the merger, one of the final steps before the deal is completed. Once the merger is closed, Intuitive Machines will trade on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker symbol LUNR.

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