Intuitive Machines, a commercial lunar lander developer, will deploy its 3rd lunar lander mission using the SpaceX Falcon 9, same spacecraft it used for its first two flights. Intuitive Machines stated on August 10 that the IM-3 lander mission would be launched in 2024 on the Falcon 9. Nova-C lander will be capable of transporting payloads weighing up to 130kgs to the lunar surface. According to company spokesman Josh Marshall, the mission has yet to be assigned a landing location.
The corporation previously chose SpaceX to launch its lander missions IM-2 and IM-1, which are set to deploy in the fourth and first quarters of the year 2022, respectively. The parameters of the launch deal were not disclosed, but Marshall stated the IM-3 contract was a new contract, not an alternative to the previous contracts.
The first two lander missions from Intuitive Machines are completing task orders for NASA under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. IM-3, on the other hand, is unrelated to any CLPS missions. The mission, according to Marshall, “has an open objective for civil and commercial customers.”
“On and around the Moon, our comprehensive system for delivering, transmitting, and commanding customer payloads is revolutionary. Now we’re demonstrating that we can do it on an annual basis,” said Steve Altemus, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines.
The company claims it will be capable of flying up to 1,000 kg of secondary payloads linked to a dispenser ring in addition to payloads aboard the lander. Those payloads would be launched into the lunar transfer orbit. From here, they could move to other destinations such as lunar orbit.
While Intuitive Machines remains to choose SpaceX for launches, the partnership hasn’t always been smooth. The launch of IM-1 was originally planned for late 2021. However, Intuitive Machines revealed in the April filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that it had been pushed back to early 2022. Intuitive Machines stated that SpaceX notified that the launch had been delayed due to “unique mission requirements,” but neither it nor the SpaceX Company would say what those requirements were.
The agreement is the latest in a string of deals for lunar lander missions won by SpaceX. Except for Astrobotic’s first Peregrine lander, that will deploy on the maiden United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur flight in 2022, all NASA’s CLPS awards are deploying on Falcon Heavy or SpaceX Falcon 9 vehicles.
In April, SpaceX received a $2.9 billion NASA funding to create a version of the Starship spacecraft for Human Landing System program of NASA, with the Artemis 3 mission set to place space explorers on the moon as soon as 2024. On July 30, the Government Accountability Office dismissed Blue Origin and Dynetics’ concerns over that contact.