Intuitive Machines makes history by landing the first commercial spacecraft on the moon

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Intuitive Machines has landed a spacecraft on the lunar surface, in a historic first for a private company.

Flight controllers confirmed the landing at 5:23 p.m. CST, though the exact condition of the spacecraft is unclear as engineers work to refine their signal with the lander.

“What we can confirm without a doubt is that our equipment is on the surface of the moon and we are transmitting,” mission director and Intuitive Machines CTO Tim Crain said. “So congratulations IM team, we’ll see how much more we can get from that.”

“Houston, Odysseus has found its new home,” he added.

“What an outstanding effort,” CEO Steve Altemus said after the landing. “I know this was a nail biter but we are on the surface and we are transmitting. Welcome to the moon.”

The company managed to pull off the landing even with the spacecraft’s laser range finders — which determine essential variables like altitude and horizontal velocity — being broken. Instead, the lander leveraged one of the onboard payloads, NASA’s laser and doppler lidar sensors, to guide the spacecraft to the lunar surface.

This is the first time America has put hardware on the moon in nearly 50 years. The spacecraft’s landing site — just outside the rim of a crater called Malapert-A — is also the closest any lander has gotten to the lunar south pole. The south pole has emerged as a region of major interest to both commercial companies and NASA; the space agency has been eyeing the area as a possible location to establish a sustained human presence on the moon as part of its Artemis program.

It’s certainly an extraordinarily positive beginning for Houston-based Intuitive Machines, one of just a few companies in the world that’s focused on providing services on and around the moon. Along with lunar landers, the company is also developing technologies related to mobility, power and data services for the moon. The company’s betting that lunar market activity — which exists at a very small scale today, and is primarily driven by NASA funding — will only grow in the coming years.

This mission is itself the result of a NASA contract awarded under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The CLPS program is designed to kickstart commercial development of landers to deliver scientific and research payloads to the moon’s surface. All in all, Intuitive Machines’ contract is worth a little less than $118 million.

“As of our third planned mission, we’re seeing more and more non-CLPS payloads from both domestic and international companies and institutions,” Josh Marshall, communications director of Intuitive Machines, said.

Intuitive Machines’ victory comes shortly after another CLPS awardee, Astrobotic, failed to put its lander on the moon. That mission was cut short very shortly after launch due to a catastrophic propulsion leak.

Rewatch the landing here:

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