Together, Intuitive Machines (IM) and Morehead State University’s Space Science Center (MSU) validated a complete lunar communications solution with the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), including orbit determination pointing solution and data downlink.

Working under a Space Act Agreement, NASA granted IM access to LRO to conduct a live sky test of IM’s Lunar Telemetry and Tracking Network (LTN). During the successful test, MSU’s 21-meter antenna locked on to NASA’s LRO radiofrequency and fed the signal back to IM’s Nova Control in Houston, Texas. The complete test validated the process used to communicate, command, and control IM’s spacecraft during the company’s 2022 lunar mission.

“This was a critical step towards returning the United States to the lunar surface on our IM-1 mission this year,” said Peter McGrath, Vice President of Business Development at Intuitive Machines. “It is also key to validating our fully commercial lunar distance communication and data relay network that supports future IM missions as well as other players in the emerging lunar economy.”

MSU’s 21-meter dish provides telemetry, tracking, ranging, and commanding services for low-Earth, medium-Earth, and near-Earth deep space missions. All future IM missions to the Moon will require the technical support and expertise that the team at MSU is ready to provide for mission tracking and data downlink services.

“The importance of these live sky tests utilizing NASA’s LRO cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Benjamin Malphrus Ed.D., Executive Director of MSU Space Science Center. “These tests represent complete end-to-end systems tests of our ground station, ground data systems, and interfaces to IM’s Nova Control.  They also represent valuable training opportunities for our early-career mission operation specialists and engineers in training”.

By granting access to LRO, NASA has accelerated the speed at which a commercial company can provide lunar communications infrastructure for an entire industry.