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Unpacking the Challenges of Intuitive Machines' Rough Lunar Landing

Updated: Mar 16

A Return to the Moon with SpaceX and Intuative Machines

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Intuitive Machines

In the early hours of a momentous day, at precisely 0105 Eastern Time, the sky above NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida became a stage for history in the making. A spectacle unfolded as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket roared to life, its powerful engines propelling an American spacecraft into the vast expanse of space. This marked a pivotal moment in the annals of space exploration, setting the stage for what could potentially become the first US-led lunar landing mission since the Apollo 17 moon landing in 1972.


The spacecraft at the heart of this daring venture is Nova-C, a marvel of engineering crafted by the skilled hands of professionals at Intuitive Machines, headquartered in Houston. Nova-C stands poised to embark on a mission of unprecedented significance – to touch down softly on the lunar surface. Scheduled for next Thursday, February 22nd, this endeavor represents the culmination of years of dedication, innovation, and tireless effort.


However, the road to this historic moment has not been without its challenges. Nova-C's upcoming lunar landing will mark the fourth attempt by various entities to achieve this lofty goal. Previous endeavors, including those by a US firm, a Japanese company, and an Israeli nonprofit, have encountered setbacks and obstacles along the way. Yet, undeterred by the failures of the past, the team behind Nova-C remains steadfast in their determination to succeed where others have faltered.


Stephen Altemus, the president and chief executive of Intuitive Machines, exudes confidence in the mission's success. In an interview with the New York Times, he expressed his assurance, stating, "I feel fairly confident that we're going to be successful softly touching down on the moon." He further emphasized the rigorous testing regimen undergone by the spacecraft, underscoring their meticulous preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.


Central to the success of the mission is NASA's steadfast support and investment. As the primary customer of this ambitious undertaking, NASA has entrusted Intuitive Machines with a vital role in advancing lunar exploration. With a contract valued at $118 million, Intuitive Machines has been tasked with transporting a myriad of payloads to the lunar surface. These payloads include a stereo camera designed to monitor lunar dust and a radio receiver aimed at studying the effects of charged particles on various radio signals.


The timeline for Nova-C's mission unfolds with precision and careful planning. In approximately one week's time, the spacecraft will gracefully enter the moon's orbit, reaching an altitude of 62 miles above the lunar surface. Twenty-four hours later, a crucial moment will unfold as Nova-C initiates its descent towards the rugged terrain below. The chosen touchdown site lies near Malapert's crater, situated approximately 185 miles from the lunar south pole – a region ripe for exploration and discovery.


As the countdown to Nova-C's lunar landing draws nearer, anticipation and excitement abound within the scientific community and beyond. This historic mission represents not only a significant technological achievement but also a testament to humanity's enduring spirit of exploration and curiosity. With each passing day, the dream of returning to the lunar surface inches closer to reality, ushering in a new era of lunar exploration and discovery.


In tracing the trajectory of Nova-C's journey, it is impossible to overlook the profound legacy of SpaceX – the visionary aerospace company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk. Since its inception in 2002, SpaceX has revolutionized the space industry, pushing the boundaries of what was once deemed impossible. At the heart of SpaceX's mission is a commitment to democratizing access to space, making it more accessible and affordable for future generations.


The history of SpaceX is a saga of innovation, perseverance, and audacity. From humble beginnings to becoming a leading force in space exploration, SpaceX has achieved numerous milestones that have reshaped our understanding of the cosmos. Notable among these accomplishments is the development of the Falcon 9 rocket – a workhorse of the space industry renowned for its reliability and versatility.


Under the leadership of Elon Musk, SpaceX has achieved numerous historic firsts, including the first privately-funded spacecraft to reach orbit and the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the International Space Station. Furthermore, SpaceX's ambitious goal of colonizing Mars has captured the imagination of people around the world, inspiring a new generation of space enthusiasts and visionaries.


In the annals of space exploration, SpaceX's contributions stand as a testament to the power of human ingenuity and the boundless possibilities that lie beyond our planet. As Nova-C embarks on its historic mission to the lunar surface, it does so on the shoulders of giants – propelled by the spirit of exploration that has defined humanity's journey to the stars.


As the countdown to Nova-C's lunar landing reaches its climax, the world watches with bated breath, eager to witness the next chapter in humanity's quest to explore the cosmos. In the vast expanse of space, where dreams converge with reality, Nova-C represents a beacon of hope and inspiration – a symbol of our collective ambition to reach for the stars and unlock the mysteries of the universe.


NOVA-C Lander

picture of nova-c lander
NOVA-C Lander

Intuitive Machines, founded in 2013 by Steve Altemus, Kam Ghaffarian, and Tim Crain, has rapidly emerged as a key player in the aerospace industry, particularly in the realm of space exploration. Since its inception, the company has been dedicated to pushing the boundaries of innovation, developing cutting-edge technologies to tackle the challenges of space exploration. Intuitive Machines' journey began with projects like the Terrestrial Return Vehicle (TRV), which demonstrated its prowess in designing and building spacecraft capable of navigating the complexities of space.


As Intuitive Machines continued to evolve, it expanded its focus to include a diverse range of space-related services and capabilities. The company's expertise in autonomous navigation, precision landing systems, and space robotics has positioned it as a trusted partner for government agencies, commercial enterprises, and academic institutions alike. In 2019, Intuitive Machines made a significant stride with the announcement of its Nova-C lunar lander program, marking its entry into the lunar exploration arena.


The Nova-C lander represents a pinnacle of Intuitive Machines' engineering prowess, boasting a suite of advanced capabilities tailored for lunar missions. One of its key features is its precision landing system, which enables it to navigate and touch down on specific locations with remarkable accuracy. This capability is crucial for deploying scientific instruments and payloads on the lunar surface in optimal locations for research and exploration.


Intuitive Machines Inc. investors have experienced more volatility than crypto traders since its Odysseus moon lander was catapulted into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 15. Shares soared as the Odysseus spacecraft successfully entered the moon's orbit and landed. However, in the after-hours trading on Friday, shares crashed on reports the spacecraft had toppled over upon landing in the moon's south pole region.


Intuitive Machines Partially Sucessful Landing

Intuitive Machines initially said its Odysseus moon lander landed successfully on Thursday. But as AP News reports, CEO Steve Altemus said Friday that the spacecraft "caught a foot in the surface," falling on its side and possibly leaning against a rock. He said a high landing speed might have snapped one of Odysseus's support legs.


"So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we're tipped over," Altemus told reporters.


He said engineers are in the process of downloading data and hope to understand the severity of the issue as early as this weekend:

"We're downloading and commanding data from the buffers in the spacecraft and trying to get you surface photos because I know that everyone's hungry for those."

What a rollercoaster ride for investors. Shares crashed as much as 31% on landing woes report.


Odysseus is the first US lunar lander in half a century. It remains to be seen if the lander can conduct its mission.


As we've penned before, another bubble could be forming: "Forget AI Bubble. A New One Emerges As Space Firms Prepare For IPO Launchpad."


As humanity stands on the cusp of renewed lunar exploration, the accomplishments of Intuitive Machines serve as a testament to the indomitable spirit of exploration and the boundless potential of human ingenuity. With each successful mission, the company propels us closer to unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos and realizing the dream of establishing a sustained human presence beyond Earth. As we venture forth into the unknown, guided by the pioneering efforts of visionaries like Intuitive Machines, we embark on a journey of discovery that promises to shape the future of humanity for generations to come.


picture of nova-c lander
NOVA-C Lander

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