Intuitive Machines lander
Just as with its first two missions, Intuitive Machines' IM-3 mission will use its Nova-C lander launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9. Credit: Intuitive Machines

WASHINGTON — Commercial lunar lander developer Intuitive Machines will launch its third lunar lander mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9, the same vehicle the company selected for its first two lander missions.

Intuitive Machines announced Aug. 10 that its IM-3 lander mission will launch on a Falcon 9 in 2024. The Nova-C lander will carry up to 130 kilograms of payloads to the lunar surface. Company spokesman Josh Marshall said the company has not selected a landing site for the mission.

The company previously selected SpaceX to launch its IM-1 and IM-2 lander missions, which are currently scheduled to launch in the first and fourth quarters of 2022, respectively. The companies did not disclose the terms of the launch contract, but Marshall said the IM-3 award was a new contract and not an option on the previous contracts.

Intuitive Machines’ first two lander missions are carrying out task orders for NASA awarded under its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. However, IM-3 is not linked to any CLPS missions. Marshall said that the mission “has an open manifest for commercial and civil customers.”

“Our turnkey solution for delivering, communicating and commanding customer payloads on and around the Moon is revolutionary. Now, we’re proving we can do it at an annual cadence,” Steve Altemus, president and chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said in a statement.

In addition to payloads on the lander, the company says it will be able to fly up to 1,000 kilograms of secondary payloads attached to a dispenser ring. Those payloads would be deployed in a lunar transfer orbit from which they can maneuver to lunar orbit or other destinations.

While Intuitive Machines continues to select SpaceX for launches, that relationship has not been without problems. IM-1 was scheduled to launch in late 2021, but Intuitive Machines disclosed in an April filing with the Federal Communications Commission that the launch had slipped to early 2022. Intuitive Machines said it was informed by SpaceX that “unique mission requirements” pushed back the launch, but neither it nor SpaceX would disclose what those requirements were.

The award continues SpaceX’s success in securing contracts for lunar lander missions. Of the six CLPS awards made by NASA to date, all are launching on SpaceX Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy vehicles other than Astrobotic’s first Peregrine lander, which will launch on the inaugural United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur mission in 2022.

SpaceX separately won a $2.9 billion NASA award in April to develop a version of its Starship vehicle for NASA’s Human Landing System program, performing a demonstration mission to land astronauts on the moon on the Artemis 3 mission as early as 2024. The Government Accountability Office rejected on July 30 protests filed by Blue Origin and Dynetics regarding that contact.

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...