Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Intuitive Machines Improving Their Next Lunar Lander

The Intuitive Machines lander IM-1, Odysseus - quickly renamed Odie -  got a lot of attention and coverage here on the blog. It was, after all, the first US launched vehicle to land on the moon since the end of the Apollo program when it landed on February 22nd. Adding to the story was that the mission was seriously barfed up on the way to the moon but fixed in a story that would make TV's McGyver proud. Yes, the word "landing" only applied in the loosest sense of the word and the mission was a continuous string of "making do with what we got", but Intuitive Machines reported every paying customer was happy with their results. 

Facing that story, though, the company has started work on improvements to the next lander that will improve its chances of getting more right by the mission plans. IM-2 is set to be launched "later in the year."

In a May 14 earnings call, Steve Altemus, chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said the company will upgrade communications, tracking and landing systems based on the lessons from the company’s IM-1 mission in February, which landed but tipped over nearly on its side.

Those upgrades are based on an internal review of the performance of the IM-1 mission. “The review resulted in software and hardware advancements that we believe expand our technical capability to track our vehicle accurately in space and land with 20 times better precision on our next mission,” he said.

Other changes will include changing the placement of antennas on the lander to improve bandwidth and provide lower Bit Error Rate communications.

“The technical improvements for IM-2 are vertically integrated capabilities within the company that we can perform with little or no impact on our intended quarter 4 2024 launch date or require any additional capital investment while we continue assembly of the flight vehicle.”

There was also mention of “more robust test and verification processes” for IM-2. You might recall the story that during the final checkout before liftoff, the crew at the launch pad failed to disable a safety switch on a laser rangefinder on the lander before launch, and the followup verification procedures (most likely visual inspections) didn't identify that problem. That kept the laser from being used as intended during landing. Company executives said shortly after the landing that had the rangefinders been working, they believe they would have had a fully successful landing.

The company is also working on longer term missions, including an IM-3 lander scheduled for 2025 which will be anchored by NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract payloads, and a totally private sector mission after that. As well as others farther into the future.

In this screen capture from this video, you can see the leg on the left is broken and doesn't look like the one on the right.  In this photo, the engine is still firing and keeping Odie vertical.  Moments after the engine was cut, it tipped over, taking about two seconds to come to rest. 

SpaceNews spends some time and column space on Intuitive Machines' business picture and it certainly looks like their work on Odie was well received. The call they mention (quoted above) was a May 14, end of the quarter earnings call. They don't say if the company considers this their first quarter of the year (calendar year) or the second (fiscal year matching the fiscal year).

The company reported $73.1 million of revenue in the quarter, far higher than the $18.2 million in the same quarter a year ago. The majority of that revenue, more than $40 million, came from the company’s OMES III engineering services contract it has with NASA in the first full quarter of that contract, said Steve Vontur, acting chief financial officer.

Intuitive Machines had a net loss of $5.4 million in the quarter, an improvement on the $14 million loss in the first quarter of 2023. The company had a cash balance of $55.2 million as of the end of the quarter, which Vontur said would be sufficient for the company through the rest of the year. The company is forecasting revenues of between $200 million and $240 million for 2024.


  1. Somebody is in deep doo doo over missing that switch check.

  2. A really costly mistake. Looks like they will have to revamp their QP's and PP's to avoid such costly human caused errors. They will not last long making these kinds of mistakes. I know such checks and quality processes can make a organization paperwork heavy. Hopefully they strike a balance and are highly successful while learning hard lessons well and creating a won't fail because if me mindset and culture. That can be difficult to nurture, fepends on good dedicated people on the floor with a top down leadership. A culture of Esprit de corps essentially.
    It happened with early NASA, was part of it at a aerospace ridged tube assembly shop I was employed at, I think SpaceX has created such a culture, its most likely a large part of why they are do successful. Its difficult to get people to think, more so to act, and its the act that truly matters, in such ways, but once begun it is contagious, and only requires your critical employees to create great positive effects. But you have to also create an escape velocity also, cause there are employees who will fight it tooth and nail even if it means the whole crew ends up unemployed and the doors shut, lights turned off.
    Personally witnessed 276 skilled NC/CNC machinists destroy their jobs, to a man, in my personal observation, first hand, watched them as they killed the most well paying jobs in the area, and very nice working conditions, top shelf, first class in every respect, with an owner who built it from his garage machine shop, and work contracts going out a decade for intricate parts machined from SST to Titanium, all rather short runs too so boredom was minimal. All that was asked of them was to find ways to increase production by just 10%. Nope. Total obstinance then sabotage. Had a year and a half to do it in. Amazing watching these people, still blows my mind how so many stuck to being self destructive. Wild.

    1. Was it the Union mentality, or was it self-inflicted? Just asking.

  3. No it was not Union and thats the really crazy part if it. It was a family business leasing floor space inside a larger family business. We where a ridged tube assembly job shop, the family was the developer and first user of the mandrel bending process, had the old patents framed on the walls near engineering, we made really complex and awesome parts for everything. This machine shop produced all our tube fitting except what say Lockheed Martin or Rolls Royce would supply us with from their shops.
    Could never figure out what was up with this group of machinists, only thing made sense was herd mentality, though mentioning unions they hired quite a few people from union shops near by. They where like totally closed off to any reasonable talk about saving their employment, really strange thing. One day they where gone to a man, rigging company removed everything, mopped the floors and turned out the lights, 6 days all gone. A real shame. Kind of thing you ask yourself what were these folks thinking?