HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — Intuitive Machines announced Oct. 27 that is has pushed back the launch of its first lunar lander mission by two months to mid-January.
In a statement issued after the markets closed, the company said its IM-1 mission is now scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 in a “multi-day” window that opens Jan. 12 from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. The mission had been scheduled to launch in a six-day window that opened Nov. 16.
“There are inherent challenges of lunar missions; schedule changes and mission adjustments are a natural consequence of pioneering lunar exploration,” Steve Altemus, chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said in a statement. “Receiving a launch window and the required approvals to fly is a remarkable achievement, and the schedule adjustment is a small price to pay for making history.”
The company did not elaborate on the reasons for the delay. However, executives warned at a media event Oct. 3 that “pad congestion” at LC-39A could delay their launch. The mission has to launch from that pad, rather than nearby Space Launch Complex 40, because only LC-39A is equipped to fuel the lander with methane and liquid oxygen propellants on the pad shortly before liftoff.
That pad is used for Falcon 9 crew and cargo missions to the International Space Station as well as Falcon Heavy launches. The pad is scheduled to host the Falcon 9 launch of the CRS-29 cargo mission Nov. 5 followed by a Falcon Heavy mission for the Space Force in late November. Converting the pad between Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches can take up to three weeks.
In its statement, Intuitive Machines did not provide an update on the status of the lander. The company said at its Oct. 3 event that the lander was complete and had passed a “pre-ship review” the day before.
IM-1 is the first flight of the company’s Nova-C lander. The 675-kilogram lander is carrying five payloads for NASA as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program and six commercial payloads, ranging from artwork to a camera that will detach during the lander’s final descent to take images as the lander touches down.
IM-1 is targeted to land seven days after launch in the vicinity of Malapert A, a crater in the south polar region of the moon. The spacecraft will operate for nearly two weeks, until the end of the lunar day deprives the lander of power.
The delay means that the first CLPS mission scheduled to launch is now Astrobotic’s Peregrine. That lander is scheduled to launch Dec. 24 on the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur. Astrobotic said Oct. 27 that Peregrine has left its Pittsburgh headquarters and its on its way to Florida for pre-launch processing.