A private lander’s mission to the moon’s south pole has been pushed back a few more months, to fall 2023.
That lander, built by the Texas company Intuitive Machineshad been set to take off on top of a spacex Falcon 9 rocket in Juneafter several earlier schedule slips.
The last delay was reported by SpaceNews (opens in a new tab), which heard an earnings call made by Intuitive Machines on Thursday (May 11). The company didn’t give many details about the launch sheet, but CEO Steve Altemus said “significant progress” has been made on the mission, dubbed IM-1.
“We have some functional tests” pending on the Nova-C lander, he said, according to SpaceNews. Altemus did not say more about the tests, nor did it provide any further details about the scheduled release.
Related: NASA’s full plate of moon missions before astronauts can go
Intuitive Machines aims to become the first private company to land softly on the moon. Other previous companies have tried but have not been successful. Most recently, Japan’s ispace lander he failed during his attempt On April 25. Before that, SpaceIL’s Beresheet lunar lander crashed during a landing attempt in April 2019.
Intuitive Machines’ IM-1 is expected to land in a south polar crater called Malapert A, with five NASA science experiments (opens in a new tab) on board. Initially, the mission was targeting more of the equatorial regions, but NASA redirected the landing site to the south.
NASA has commissioned Intuitive Machines, and several other companies, to land scientific payloads for the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. CLPS is intended to serve as support for the artemis programwhich aims to land astronauts near the lunar south pole in the mugwort 3 mission in 2025 or so, and build one or more bases in the region thereafter.
Intuitive Machines has two other missions in the pipeline for NASA. IM-2 is also expected to touch down near the south pole, near Shackleton crater, while IM-3 will land on a swirling feature called Reiner Gamma.
IM-2 may be delayed due to waiting for IM-1, Altemus said during the phone call, the first since Intuitive Machines was publicly listed in February. For now, IM-3 is expected to launch in 2024.
Intuitive Machines reported an operating loss of $14 million in the most recent quarter, compared with $4.5 million in the same quarter of 2022; a portion of the loss, $2.8 million, was due to costs associated with the merger that took it public. Quarterly revenue was similar to last year, with $18.2 million reported in 2023 and $18.5 million in 2022, SpaceNews reported.
Another US company supported by NASA, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, is also trying to be the first to achieve a private landing on the moon. Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander is awaiting a now-delayed liftoff aboard the new United Launch Alliance (ULA) vulcan centaur rocket.
TO fireball during test last month it delayed the first launch of Vulcan Centaur, which will send Peregrine toward the moon. That takeoff had been set for June or July. A new release date has not been announced, but ULA CEO Tory Bruno said in a recent Twitter thread (opens in a new tab) that the company is “shielding” a release date opportunity for sometime in the summer.
Elizabeth Howell is co-author of “Why am I taller? (opens in a new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book on space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Espaciodotcom (opens in a new tab) either Facebook (opens in a new tab).