WASHINGTON — The IM-1 mission by Intuitive Machines is on track to attempt a landing on the moon later this week after performing an in-flight test of its main engine.

The company announced late Feb. 16 that it fired the main engine of its Nova-C lander in a commissioning maneuver. The test was the first firing of the engine, which uses liquid oxygen and methane propellants, since its launch early Feb. 15 on a Falcon 9 from the Kennedy Space Center.

That test was originally scheduled for about 18 hours after liftoff. The company said earlier Feb. 16 it postponed the maneuver after finding it took longer than expected to chill the liquid oxygen feed line. The company also blamed intermittent communications with the lander for the delay.

Intuitive Machines said in the announcement of the engine firing that it would take the next eight hours to analyze the data from the burn. The company’s next mission update, though, did not come until the evening of Feb. 18. It said then that the lander was in “excellent health” and that controllers were planning trajectory correction maneuvers. The mission includes up to three such maneuvers to adjust the spacecraft’s path to the moon.

Completing the commissioning maneuver that demonstrated the performance of the main engine, which will be used to place the spacecraft into lunar orbit and, later, land on the moon, was a major milestone for the mission.

“Once we get through that and we know how the engine performs in space, I think our confidence actually goes up that we will have a successful landing on the moon,” Trent Martin, vice president of space systems at Intuitive Machines, said of that engine test in a Feb. 12 interview.

The IM-1 mission is carrying six NASA payloads as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program under a $118 million task order. It is also carrying six payloads for other customers, ranging from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to the artist Jeff Koons.

The Houston-based company said Feb. 18 that the spacecraft remains on track to go into orbit around the moon Feb. 21, followed by a landing attempt on the afternoon of Feb. 22, although the company has not disclosed specific times for either event. If the spacecraft lands successfully, it is designed to operate for about a week until the sun sets at its landing site, a location near the Malapert A crater in the south polar region of the moon.

Intuitive Machines, which went public a year ago after merging with a special purpose acquisition company, has seen its share price spike with the launch. The company’s shared closed at $7.32 Feb. 16, up nearly 47% from a week earlier. The share price has nearly tripled since the end of 2023 and has returned to levels last seen in August 2023.

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...