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Intuitive Machines Sounds Nasdaq Bell as it Progresses Towards a Lunar Landing Mission in Private Sector

The moon-landing company went public on the Nasdaq on Wednesday (Feb. 15) amid a renewed focus by NASA to bring humans and robots to the lunar surface.

Ahead of their moon landing company going public, Intuitive Machines staff enjoyed the Broadway musical “Hamilton” in New York City, a show depicting the early history of the United States. “The entire theme of the production is centered around taking opportunities and making the most of them. This is our chance,” explained Joshua Marshall, Intuitive Machines‘ communications director, to Space.com on Wednesday, February 15, shortly after ringing the opening bell at the Nasdaq stock exchange. If Intuitive Machines succeeds, it could become the first privately owned US organization to set foot on the moon. The IM-1 mission, which is slated for a south pole landing in June 2023 via a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, will be the maiden voyage. The NASA-led Artemis initiative is set to send astronauts to the moon as soon as 2025, with other companies, including Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander, also anticipated to launch soon.

With an abundance of water ice on the moon, the Nova-C lander from Intuitive Machines will be a valuable guide for future NASA missions. Joshua Marshall, the communications director of the company, stated that there will be a great deal of moon-related activity in the near future, and the funds raised through the recent Nasdaq listing will allow Intuitive Machines to establish the necessary infrastructure to assist the Artemis program’s astronauts.

Since its inception in 2013, Intuitive Machines, headquartered in Houston, has experienced significant expansion. It started with just six individuals looking for their niche and has now grown to have as many as 24 aerospace and engineering business lines, such as pipeline-inspecting drones.

The original team of Intuitive Machines‘ workers originated from NASA’s human spaceflight programs and engineering at Houston’s Johnson Space Center, where astronaut training takes place. However, after “floating around” for five years, Intuitive Machines found a new purpose when NASA shifted its focus to prioritize lunar exploration in 2018, which was an area in which the company had extensive knowledge and expertise, according to Marshall.

This new focus resulted in significant growth, with the company now employing 250 people and planning to hire at least 120 additional employees in 2023 alone. The company’s mission roster already includes three moon missions. Additionally, Intuitive Machines will use the funds raised from the recent Nasdaq listing to support the development of communication satellites and larger landers for the future Artemis missions.

Intuitive Machines‘ IM-1 mission will transport five scientific experiments on behalf of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, which aims to use private hardware to send scientific payloads and experiments to the moon.

There was a last-minute change in planning that necessitated a modification to the Nova-C lander to accommodate the south pole area, which has different solar angles and temperatures than the hotter and more sunlit lunar equator. According to Marshall, the solar panels have been optimized based on testing, and the lander should be able to handle the journey to Malapert A, a crater near the south pole.

Intuitive Machines has a second mission, IM-2, which aims to launch the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment (PRIME-1) NASA gear and a lunar “hopper” to the south pole on October 31st. The Nova-C lander will travel on another Falcon 9 rocket and will target a ridge of Shackleton Crater at the south pole.

The IM-2 mission’s NASA package includes a trident drill that can dig as deep as three feet (one meter) into the surface. Any tailings collected by the drill will be analyzed for composition using a mass spectrometer to search for water under the soil.

At the same time, the Arizona State University-Intuitive Machines hopper will measure the temperature at the bottom of deep craters (where water may be present) and “shine light on the bottom of a crater that has never seen sunlight throughout the moon’s history,” according to Marshall.

The Reiner Gamma magnetic swirl on the lunar surface. The image displays a region approximately 50 miles (80 kilometers) across. (Image credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University)

Intuitive Machines has announced its third scheduled mission for April 2024, in which a lander will be sent to Reiner Gamma in Oceanus Procellarum, carrying four investigations. The region features a magnetic “lunar swirl” that spans tens of miles or kilometers and is considered peculiar.

According to Marshall, a fleet of rovers will depart from the lander and traverse around the swirl, evaluating the effectiveness of novel rover-to-rover communication technology that can help guide any immobilized rovers along the way.

Intuitive Machines, having fully funded their missions and with additional capital coming in, has plans to expand their technological offerings. According to Marshall, the company is in talks with other entities to construct a larger lunar rover that would be the size of a Ford F-150 pickup truck and have a mass of 1.6 tons (1.5 metric tons).

Intuitive Machines intends to expand its technology offerings with the funds from its fully-funded missions and incoming investments. According to Marshall, the company is in discussions with parties interested in developing a larger lunar rover with a mass of 1.6 tons (1.5 metric tons), which is comparable in size to a Ford F-150 pickup truck.

Intuitive Machines is exploring future concepts such as robotics for servicing satellites or spacecraft capable of accurately delivering payloads to Earth from NASA’s planned Gateway space station in orbit around the moon.

“We’ve built an entire lunar program; we’ve had to build every aspect,” Marshall emphasized, which company officials hope will position Intuitive Machines for even more NASA work in the near future.

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