After years of work, officials at a Clear Lake-based aerospace company are on the cusp of sending a commercial lunar lander to the moon.

What's happening?

The plan is for a SpaceX rocket to launch Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander, assembled at the Houston Spaceport, from Florida as early as Nov. 15. One of the goals of those behind the lander is for Intuitive Machines to be the first commercial company to put a lander on the moon.

The lander is equipped with several NASA and commercial payloads, each of which will conduct various scientific experiments.

For instance, one payload is from sportswear company Columbia, which sells jackets with thermal liners inspired by NASA space blankets. The payload will include the same thermal liner technology as the jackets to measure its effectiveness against the moon’s cold and heat and potential for use in aerospace exploration, Intuitive Machines Program Manager Trent Martin said.

Other payloads will do other experiments, such as measuring and analyzing the plume of lunar dust kicked up by the landing.

The mission will give NASA and commercial companies data and information about the moon before human crews return to the lunar surface.

“The technologies that NASA’s testing on these robotic landers is actually essential to getting humans back to the moon,” Martin said.


Nova-C will launch from a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Minutes later, the lander will separate from the rocket and drift toward the moon.

As the lander approaches the moon, flight controllers will correct its trajectory to enter the moon’s orbit and eventually land on the surface, six days after launch.

As it lands, Nova-C will launch a camera from itself to take “selfies” of its descent, which has never been done before, Martin said.

What they’re saying

“You walk around this company, and what you see is just elation in everybody. You see the smiles on their face; you see how hard they’re working. Just the energy level of the employees, it’s palpable," Intuitive Machines CEO Stephen Altemus said.

“To me, this is the culmination of everything I’ve done throughout my career ... [and] the reason I got into this business in the first place: Let’s go land on the moon," Martin said.

Stay tuned

As early as next year, officials at the company plan to launch IM-2 and IM-3, two other Nova-C missions to the moon. IM-2’s lander will include a drill to penetrate the lunar surface in search of ice, and IM-3’s lander will include four rovers, Intuitive Machine officials said.

Intuitive Machines officials have plans for other Nova landers, including ones capable of carrying far heavier payloads to the moon than the Nova-C, Martin said. It’s possible Intuitive Machines’ lander technology could eventually be used to deliver food, fuel, communications systems and even habitats for the astronauts who will eventually reside on the moon, he said.

“I want to set up, as a business, to have at least an annual cadence of missions to the moon,” Altemus said.