IM-1 at lunar south pole
Intuitive Machines said it moved the landing site for its IM-1 mission to the lunar south pole region at the request of NASA to better support Artemis. Credit: Intuitive Machines

WASHINGTON — Intuitive Machines says its first lunar lander mission has slipped into the third quarter of this year as pursues a wider range of business opportunities.

In a May 11 earnings call, the first for the company since it went public through a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger in February, Chief Executive Steve Altemus said that the company’s Nova-C lander being completed for its IM-1 mission would be “at the launch pad and preparing for liftoff” in mid to late third quarter.

The company announced in February plans for a June landing at Malapert A, a crater near the south pole of the moon. That date was a slip from a previously scheduled March launch, which the company said was linked to NASA’s decision to move the landing site to Malapert A.

Altemus said the company made “significant progress” in testing of the lander in recent months, such as structural tests to confirm the vehicle could handle the stresses of launch and cryogenic tanking demonstrations. “We have some functional testing” still to do on the lander, he said, but did not elaborate on the nature of those tests or their schedule ahead of shipping to Cape Canaveral for its Falcon 9 launch.

The new schedule “is a little bit of movement from initial expectations,” he acknowledged, and could affect the schedule of its second mission, IM-2, which had been set for the fall.

The IM-1 mission is carrying payloads for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program under a task order awarded in May 2019. At that time, IM-1 was scheduled to land in July 2021. The task order was originally valued at $77 million but, after several modifications that include the change in landing site, now has a total value of $116.3 million, according to federal contracting databases.

The company is racing with Astrobotic, which also received an initial CLPS task order in 2019, to be the first American company to land on the moon. Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander was scheduled to launch this month on the first Vulcan Centaur, but United Launch Alliance delayed that launch because of an anomaly during testing of a Centaur upper stage in March. ULA said this week it is “protecting” a summer launch of Vulcan as it resumes pad tests of the rocket.

Other business

While Intuitive Machines is best known for its lunar landers, the company is branching out into other areas. The company partnered with KBR to win a NASA engineering services contract called Omnibus Multidiscipline Engineering Services (OMES) III April 18. The contract has a maximum value of $719 million over five years.

The OMES III contract is the largest single contract that Intuitive Machines has won, Altemus said in the call. He argued that the contract would help it grow its “orbital services” business line that will ultimately include satellite servicing and debris removal. “This win is of strategic importance, allowing us to support NASA in designing, developing and demonstrating critical technology required to support the emerging orbital servicing market.”

A NASA release about the contract described it as providing “multidiscipline engineering services” that support “spaceflight, airborne, and ground system hardware and software, including development and validation of new technologies to enable future space and science missions.” The release does not specifically mention satellite servicing or related technologies beyond noting the contract involves work with the center’s In-space Services projects division, among others.

The start of the OMES III contract is on hold, though, after another bidder, SAIC, filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office on May 8. GAO has an Aug. 16 deadline to rule on the protest.

Altemus played down the protest, noting historical success rates for such bid protests of less than 10%. “We have high confidence in our value offering to the government,” he said, adding that he did not know the details of SAIC’s protest. “We’re confident that, once we get through this 100-day protest period for the GAO, the award will stand.”

Intuitive Machines submitted a proposal in March for a NASA competition to provide commercial services for its Near Space Network, which handles communications for missions in orbit and at distances of up to two million kilometers from Earth. That includes spacecraft that would serve as communications relays in Earth orbit and around the moon. NASA is expected to make multiple contract awards in the third quarter.

Intuitive Machines is partnering with Raytheon, which Altemus said provides “the solutions and the heft that we might need for more enterprise-class systems.” Intuitive Machines has plans to develop its own constellation of lunar data relay satellites to support its landers and other missions, and believes it is ahead of competitors like Lockheed Martin subsidiary Crescent Space Services, which announced plans for a similar constellation in March.

The company will also lead a team called “Moon Racer” that will bid on NASA’s Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) competition for a crewed lunar rover. That team includes Northrop Grumman, Boeing, AVL, Michelin and Roush. NASA is expected to release the LTV call for proposals later this month.

Northrop Grumman announced plans for the rover in November 2021, with it as the lead and Intuitive Machines providing the lander that delivered the rover. Altemus did not disclose why it was now the prime on the team. Several other companies, such as teams led by Lockheed Martin, Leidos and Astrolab, are likely to submit bids.

Intuitive Machines reported $18.2 million in revenue in the quarter compared to $18.5 million in the first quarter of 2022. The company’s work on its three NASA CLPS task orders provided two-thirds of its revenue in the quarter.

The company reported an operating loss of $14 million in the quarter compared to $4.5 million in the same quarter a year ago. That loss included $2.8 million in one-time costs associated with the SPAC merger. The company is projecting $168 million to $274 million in revenue for 2023, and Erik Sallee, chief financial officer, said the company should report positive quarterly earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) by the fourth quarter.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...