HAMBURG, Germany — As Intuitive Machines prepares for the launch of its first lunar lander mission, the company says it’s planning for up to three lander launches in 2024.
In a Nov. 13 earnings call to discuss the company’s third quarter financial results, the company confirmed it is working towards a Jan. 12 launch of its IM-1 mission on a Falcon 9 from the Kennedy Space Center.
That launch slipped from mid-November, and in the call executives strongly suggested, but did not explicitly state, that “launch pad congestion” at KSC’s Launch Complex 39A was the reason for the delay. IM-1 needs to launch from that pad because it is the only one equipped to fuel the lander with methane and liquid oxygen shortly before liftoff.
“Schedule changes and mission adjustments are a natural consequence of pioneering lunar exploration,” Steve Altemus, chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said on the call. The company, he described, was using the delay “smartly” to do testing of the Nova-C lander now that was previously planned to take place at the launch site, with the spacecraft scheduled to ship to Florida later in the month.
A launch on Jan. 12 would set up the spacecraft for a landing attempt on the moon Jan. 19. While IM-1 is now scheduled to launch after Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, slated to lift off on the inaugural Vulcan Centaur Dec. 24, it may land before Peregrine, which is taking a less direct trajectory to the moon. Altemus said in the call that he understood that, if Peregrine launches on time, it would attempt its landing Jan. 20, a day after IM-1.
However, a spokesperson for Astrobotic said Nov. 13 that the date he gave was incorrect, and that the company would only announce a planned landing date after the launch. In a separate presentation at NASA’s Planetary Science Advisory Committee Nov. 13, Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, said the landing of Peregrine was expected “towards the end of January.” Both Peregrine and IM-1 are carrying payloads for NASA through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.
Intuitive Machines is working on two more Nova-C landers for its IM-2 and IM-3 missions, also carrying NASA CLPS payloads. The company has not announced launch dates for those missions, but Altemus said he hoped both could take place by the end of 2024.
“We are planning three missions in 2024,” he said, which will depend in part on NASA’s requirements as well as orbital dynamics. Landings at the south polar region of the moon, the target for IM-2, are linked to “seasons” where lighting conditions are optimal for lander operations. IM-3, he said, would happen “a few months” after IM-2.
He said the company is still working to finalize payloads for those landers, in particular those what would fly as rideshares, taking advantage of additional capacity for the launch beyond the lander itself. NASA, for example, is flying its Lunar Trailblazer smallsat orbiter as a rideshare on IM-2. “We’re moving those around and adjusting them as payload customers are keenly interested in taking rideshare out this far into space,” he said.
Intuitive Machines announced Nov. 13 that it recently signed a $16.8 million contract with an unidentified “international space agency” to provide lunar rover services on a future mission. Altemus described that award as its largest international payload contract to date, but offered no additional details about the deal.
Despite broader budget pressures facing NASA, he said he saw continued support for CLPS during recent meetings with congressional staffers, including those on appropriations committees. That, he argued, comes from a desire to have a regular series of lunar landing missions even as Artemis crewed landings face delays.
“CLPS offers an opportunity for NASA to have this cadence of missions and activities towards the moon,” he said. “We’ve very encouraged about the House and the Senate commitment to CLPS and the Artemis program and, the way it’s structuring now, CLPS is in a position to serve in covering any gaps that occur from delays in the Artemis program.”
Intuitive Machines reported $12.7 million in revenue in the third quarter, up from $10.3 million in the same quarter of 2022. The company reported an operating loss of $23.2 million in the quarter versus an $11.8 million loss in the same quarter of 2022. The company ended the quarter with $40.7 million of cash on hand.