US to launch its first lander to lunar south pole in September

Intuitive Machines announced during an earnings call that the "Nova-C lander is completely built" and will soon be ready to fly aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of Nova-C on the lunar surface.
An artist's impression of Nova-C on the lunar surface.

Intuitive Machines / Flickr 

Houston-based firm Intuitive Machines announced its Nova-C lunar lander will finally launch to the Moon in September.

The company is one of several US firms building lunar landers and competing for NASA contracts to send scientific payloads to the lunar surface.

Intuitive Machines' lunar lander will soon be "ready to go"

Intuitive Machines and one of its competitors, Astrobiotic, were awarded the first of NASA's "Commercial Lunar Payload Services" contracts in May 2019.

Both companies are running roughly two years behind schedule, but Intuitive Machines has now announced it is on the verge of sending its Nova-C lander to the Moon.

"Our Nova-C lander is completely built," said Steve Altemus, co-founder and chief executive of Intuitive Machines, in an earnings call on Monday, according to an Ars Technica report. "We will deliver a lunar lander ready to go in September."

Astrobiotic also announced earlier this year that its Peregrine lander had been completed and was ready to fly, though its launch has been pushed back by delays to United Launch Alliance's (ULA) next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket. According to Ars Technica, that mission could fly by mid-December, though it may be pushed back to next year.

Intuitive Machines' Nova-C, meanwhile, may fly before Astrobiotic's Peregrine lander because it has booked a ride aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which is currently the most reliable rocket in the world in terms of launches per year — this year, it has already flown more than 50 times.

Racing to the lunar south pole

Both lunar lander missions are part of an upcoming surge in lander activity on the Moon taking place over the coming weeks and months.

Russia's Luna-25 lander, its first lunar lander in almost 50 years, entered lunar orbit yesterday, August 15. It joins India's Chandrayaan-3 lunar lander, which has been orbiting the Moon since early August.

Both of these are set to land on the lunar south pole, a key target for many upcoming Moon missions as it is believed to harbor vast amounts of ice water.

During the earnings call, Altemus explained that the Intuitive Machines-1 mission has a launch slot reserved from November 15 through November 20 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket that will lift off from Launch Complex-39A at Kennedy Space Center. The company also has a backup window for launch in December.

Much like the Luna-25 and Chandrayaan-3 missions, Nova-C is scheduled to launch near the lunar south pole. If all goes according to plan, it will be the first US mission to land in that region of the lunar surface. As such, it will act as a precursor of sorts for NASA's Artemis III mission, which is set for no earlier than 2025. Artemis III will be the first mission to send a crew of astronauts to the lunar south pole.

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