Monday, February 12, 2024

Tuesday Night/Wednesday Morning

The mission we've been keeping an eye on since at least August of '23 is finally here.  Intuitive Machines' IM-1 is scheduled to lift off on a Falcon 9 from Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday morning, Feb. 14, at 12:57 a.m. EST (0557 UTC), sending the robotic Nova-C lander "Odysseus" toward the moon.  As you know, the eastern time zone is the only one in the CONUS in which this launch is on Wednesday, Valentine's Day.  Those of you in California or points farther west will have it progressively earlier in the evening of Tuesday, February 13.  

If all goes according to plan, Odysseus will touch down near the moon's south pole on Feb. 22, pulling off the first-ever private lunar landing.  That race is still going on. 

Odysseus' mission, known as IM-1, includes 12 payloads, half commercial and half NASA science packages. NASA is using this research to get ready for the Artemis program missions that will land astronauts near the moon's south pole, beginning in 2026 or so.

IM-1 is part of the series of low-cost private moon missions that include NASA-funded instruments, which are manifested via the agency's Commercial Lunar Payloads Services (CLPS) program.

The CLPS program is a collection of smaller-company driven, private robotic missions that are each low in cost, with the inevitable tradeoff being fewer backup systems in case of trouble. That was seen clearly in Astrobotic's Peregrine lander mission, the first CLPS mission, last month.  The lander suffered an anomaly as soon as they tried to use its engines, immediately losing the ability to complete the mission.  They tried to get some results out of the mission but ended up looping around the moon, returning to Earth and burning up in the atmosphere on reentry.  

Smaller and cheaper missions allow NASA to test technologies faster than traditional mission planning allows for, emphasized Susan Lederer, CLPS project scientist at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, during a teleconference today (Feb. 12). The high risk is worth it, as "this will allow us to prepare for Artemis more efficiently," with more missions launching more frequently, Lederer said.

Another advantage is the proliferation of landing options if multiple CLPS missions succeed: There's "a far greater number of places you can go to on the moon and the diversity of people involved" if lots of CLPS missions reach the surface, Lederer said.

As a mission intended to prepare for the Artemis moon landings, also set to land at the south pole, the IM-1 mission will experience one of the aspects of landing there that is causing some concern.  The radio signal being beamed back to Earth will be close to the surface of the moon, and that can cause problems.  "The communications can kind of bounce along the terrain, coming and going," Lederer added. "So, having a location that's close to the south pole will help us to start investigating those kinds of things that are happening."

Computer rendering showing the Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander on the surface of the moon with Earth in the background. (Image credit: Intuitive Machines) (I've never really tried to deep dive on why they have the Columbia sportswear logo on that large panel.  I figure it's got to be some sort of name placement or advertising.)

The CLPS program seems to be reality-based in that they realize they're going to lose some of these missions or even all of them.  They may only have parts of the missions that they can claim were successful, but they're still determined to learn from them.  Whether that's the smartest way to get the information they want, I don't think we can know until all the work is done and the numbers are in.

Additionally, IM-1's equipment will be assessed for how well it performs in the harsh cold of the moon, including components such as solar panels and instruments. But even if that mission or some other CLPS landers don't make it, she emphasized, NASA will proceed with plans for its Artemis 3 mission, which aims to land astronauts near the lunar south pole in September 2026.

"It won't endanger efficiency," Lederer said.


  1. Replies
    1. Thank you!

      (I shoulda thought of that)

    2. > I've never really tried to deep dive on why they have the Columbia sportswear logo on that large panel.

      I was about to joke: it's a jacket to keep the probe warm, it's cold in space.

      | In partnership with Columbia, Intuitive Machines is testing the limits of the sportswear company's innovations by sending Omni-HeatTM infinity to the Moon to protect our Nova-C lunar lander from the extreme temperatures of outer space.'s the new astronaut cool brand: Rolex, Hasselblad, Columbia cold weather clothing.

  2. Looks like they will take the usual roundabout path to the moon: “Intuitive Machines is targeting landing on the Moon on Thursday, Feb. 22.”

    1. Long at about 8 days, but not as long as some. Like that Hakuto-R from Japan that launched December 11 of '22 and entered lunar orbit March 20 of '23.