Falcon 9 liftoff from LC-39A. Credits: SpaceX

Nova-C: SpaceX Launches the Latest Private Moon Mission

Odysseus, the first Intuitive Machine's Nova-C spacecraft, lifted off onboard a Falcon 9 rocket to reach the Moon’s South Pole as part of NASA’s CLPS Program

On February 15, 2024, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the Intuitive Machine Nova-C spacecraft, Odysseus, into a direct trajectory to the Moon from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The rocket lifted off at 06:05 UTC, while the booster landed after 7 minutes and a half at Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1) Pad at KSC. The spacecraft separated from the second stage at 06:53 UTC.

The liftoff was initially scheduled for Feb. 14, but was postponed to the 15th due to an issue with the spacecraft’s fuel supply. In fact, Nova-C is the first lunar lander to use cryogenic propellants. To do so, SpaceX had to implement a new fueling system and procedures to load the lander with liquid methane and oxygen while encapsulated in the Falcon 9 fairing shortly before launch. The Starship team’s expertise in this area has helped implement the system for this mission.

Nova-C Odysseus on top of SpaceX's Falcon 9 at LC-39A pad. Credits: SpaceX
Nova-C Odysseus on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 at LC-39A pad. Credits: SpaceX

The launch was the starting point of the IM-1 mission, the second of the NASA Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) Program, that will last approximately sixteen days. The journey to the Moon will take nine days, while the remaining seven will be spent on the lunar surface before the sun sets on the landing site, rendering the solar-powered lander inoperable.


IM-1, Intuitive Machines’ first delivery service to the Moon

NASA introduced the CLPS initiative to focus its internal resources on more critical aspects of the Artemis Program, like the SLS rocket, the Orion capsule, and the VIPER rover. The agency’s bet on the capacity of private companies to develop Lunar logistic services, taking some risk. However, the first results are coming.

On January 8, 2024, the first CLPS mission launched from Cape Canaveral, Astrobotic’s Peregrine One, headed to the Moon. Unfortunately, the lander didn’t reach the Lunar surface due to a technical issue during the flight in space.

An image of Peregrine lunar lander showing a "disturbance" in its insulation layer. Credits: Astrobotic.
An image of Peregrine lunar lander showing a “disturbance” in its insulation layer. Credits: Astrobotic

The chance is now on Intuitive Machines to be the first commercial company to deliver payloads on the Moon. To accomplish this objective, they developed the Nova-C lander, a 4-meter-tall spacecraft, mostly made of carbon fiber and titanium, capable of delivering up to 130 Kg of payload to the Lunar surface.

Odysseus, the Nova-C for mission IM-1, nicknamed Odie, is loaded with twelve payloads as scientific instruments and technology demonstrators (for more details, see “Intuitive Machines Prepares for a Daring Moon Mission”).

IM-1 Nova-C Odysseus and the US flag. Credits: Innovative Machines.
IM-1 Nova-C Odysseus and the US flag. Credits: Intuitive Machines

A promising technology demonstrator is the Lunar Node-1 (LN-1) experiment, designed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. This radio beacon can provide precise location and orientation information to landers, rovers, and humans on the lunar surface and in orbit and assist with orbital maneuvers and landing guidance as a space lighthouse.


From a Napkin to the Moon

in 2012, Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines, drew the initial blueprint of the company on a napkin during a casual dinner conversation with Co-founder Dr. Kam Ghaffarian. After twelve years, the idea has become a reality with the first mission to the Moon. After IM-1, the other two missions, IM-2 and IM-3, are planned for launch in 2024.

µNova hopper on the surface of the Moon, an artist's impression. Credits: Intuitive Macchines.
µNova hopper on the surface of the Moon, an artist’s impression. Credits: Intuitive Macchine

IM-2 will land on the South Pole of the Moon and deliver the first commercial Lunar hopper, µNova (Micro Nova), capable of bringing one kg of science payloads to twenty-five km from the initial landing location.

IM-3 will land at Reiner Gamma on the Oceanus Procellarum, an enigmatic Lunar swirl with a high albedo and a peculiar magnetic field.


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Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Space Ambassador, Terranaut, Future Spacepolitan, Writer of Becoming Spacepolitans Blog

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