An American company is hoping to land a vehicle on the Moon, just a few weeks after a lunar mission launched by a fellow US firm failed.
This will be the fourth attempt by a private company to land on the Moon, after unsuccessful attempts by Israel's SpaceIL and Israel Aerospace Industries in 2019, Japan’s ispace last year and US-based Astrobotic on January 8.
It will take the vehicle about five days to reach the surface and, if successful, it could be the first lunar landing by the US since the last Apollo mission in 1972.
“The company’s IM-1 mission Nova-C lunar lander remains ready,” said Intuitive Machines.
“Since arriving in Florida, the IM-1 lunar lander has completed major system tests, verification and certification milestones.”
How to watch
Nasa and SpaceX will broadcast the launch on their websites on February 14, with Nasa coverage to begin at 9.15am, UAE time, and the lift-off set at 9.57am - depending on weather and any technical issues.
A landing attempt is expected on February 22 and updates would be provided by Intuitive Machines.
Nasa is a customer
The company was contracted by Nasa as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme, which hires companies to send science and technology payloads to the lunar surface.
CLPS is helping to create easier access to the Moon by contracting companies, similar to how Nasa hires SpaceX to launch its astronauts to the International Space Station.
The agency has six payloads on the Nova-C vehicle, including technology that tests space weather and lunar surface interactions, radio astronomy and precision landing.
Nasa also plans to launch more payloads on future flights by Intuitive Machines, including the IM-2 mission planned for later this year and its third mission in 2024.
It also had payloads on the Peregrine lunar lander built by Astrobotic.
However, the vehicle experienced a propulsion anomaly shortly after separating from the rocket, causing a fuel leak that made a soft lunar landing impossible.
Moon mission accomplished
On January 19, Japan became the fifth nation to carry out a soft landing on the Moon.
Other countries that have achieved the feat include America, the former Soviet Union, China and India.
Laura Forczyk, author and founder of space consulting company Astralytical, told The National that landing on the Moon was no easy task.
“The Moon is a different world – literally. It has no atmosphere, [and has] lower gravity and a harsh dusty environment,” she said.
“Only recently have we developed the technology to launch a crewed spacecraft and land it back on solid ground without the benefit of a runway, and that technology is still experimental.
“It's much more difficult to launch from Earth and land safely on the Moon, and the Moon has no air, so parachutes aren't an option.
“The more we practice with uncrewed lunar landers, the more confident we will become in launching humans to the Moon and landing them safely.”
The Nova-C vehicle will attempt a landing in near a crater in the Moon’s southern pole.
Only India has managed to land a craft near the South Pole region in 2023, helping the country to become the fourth nation to touchdown on the Moon.