Only five countries have achieved a controlled, soft landing on the moon, but none of them have been commercial missions.
Vying to become the first private company to achieve the feat, Japanese firm ispace sent its Hakuto-R Series 1 lander to our nearest neighbor last year. But in the final stages of its flight, the spacecraft lost control and crashed on the surface.
More recently, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic successfully launched its Peregrine lander on a ULA rocket from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, setting it on course for a rendezvous with the moon that was supposed to take place next month. But within just hours of reaching space, the team reported a critical fuel leak that meant the spacecraft had no chance of reaching its destination. Peregrine burned up in Earth’s atmosphere last week.
Next up is Houston-based Intuitive Machines, which is planning to launch its Nova-C lunar lander from Kennedy next month. Will Intuitive Machines become the first private firm to achieve a soft landing on the moon? Well, the recently failed attempts by ispace and Astrobotic confirm just how difficult it is to achieve the feat, so we can only hope Intuitive Machines has done the necessary work to ensure a successful lunar landing.
Following Astrobotic’s failed flight, Nova-C will be the second mission that’s part of NASA’s new CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) program, which contracts commercial firms to send science missions to the moon and test a range of new technologies ahead of the first Artemis crewed landing, currently scheduled for 2026.
“A successful landing will help support the CLPS model for commercial payload deliveries to the lunar surface,” NASA said this week.
The Nova-C lander will carry with it various science instruments focusing on plume-surface interactions, space weather/lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy, precision landing technologies, and a communication and navigation node for future autonomous navigation technologies.
Intuitive Machines’ lander is a hexagonal cylinder, 4 meters tall and 1.57 meters wide, and with six landing legs.
After launching from Kennedy on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the lander will head for the moon’s Malapert A crater near the South Pole. At that point, all eyes will be on whether it can make a successful soft landing, sending it straight into the record books.