Intuitive Machines — the first company based at the Houston Spaceport’s location at Ellington Airport — will join NASA’s new era of lunar exploration with a robotic landing on the moon in 2021, under a contract award announced May 31, 2019, by NASA.
“On the cusp of the groundbreaking for the expanded plans for Phase 1 development at the Houston Spaceport, we are thrilled to see Intuitive Machines earn this ground-breaking opportunity with NASA,” said Houston Aviation Director Mario C. Diaz. “We envision the Spaceport as an incubator, a place where innovation and new ideas are nurtured, and will produce the new ideas and new technologies that will drive the future of commercial space travel. Intuitive Machines is a valued partner and a prime example of those pioneering ideas that will take us back to the moon.”
The firm, fixed-price contract for no more than $77,247,500 with an additional incentive of $2,500,000 calls for Intuitive Machines to develop, launch and land its Nova-C spacecraft on the lunar surface with a payload of NASA and private experiments. The mission will be the first under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The award places Intuitive Machines on a path to become one of the first private U.S. company to land a spacecraft on the moon.
“All of us at Intuitive Machines have great passion for space and exploration,” said Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines. “Our experience in developing autonomous systems, precision navigation, and cryogenic propulsion lends itself perfectly to the challenge of landing Nova-C on the moon. In our first mission, we provide lunar science payload delivery and technology advancement for NASA, academia, and our strategic partner Boeing."
"Our vision is to take the challenge of this historic step with an eye toward a permanent presence on the moon," said Dr. Tim Crain, Intuitive Machines' Lunar Architect. "We are working with Boeing to extend core Nova-C technologies of propulsion and automation to the development of large scale and human landers."
“We are very excited about this incredible opportunity to once again put the United States on the surface of the moon," Altemus adds. "We have a strong team of brilliant minds motivated to accomplish this mission. We have worked relentlessly over the past few years and we will continue to do so until we land the Nova-C on the moon and put boots on the ground shortly thereafter.”
The lunar payload and delivery service business of Intuitive Machines encompasses small, medium and large landers as well as the development of lunar infrastructure that will pave the way for planetary missions. The 2021 Nova-C mission will have a payload capacity of 220 pounds (100 kg) and transmit scientific data back to Earth during 13.5 days of activity on the moon’s surface.
Nova-C uses a first-in-class, deep-throttling liquid oxygen/methane engine that is scalable to landers of different sizes. Intuitive Machines also is working to enable space exploration beyond the moon with its development and implementation of space-storable cryogenic propellants.
The partnership between Intuitive Machines and the Houston Spaceport began in November 2015, when it became the first tenant in the Houston Aerospace Support Center, and already has produced dividends in the mutual mission of developing technology for the future. In 2016, when the Houston Airport System sought to explore the use of tethered drones to help enhance airport property security, Intuitive Machines utilized its OSPREI security and observation program to develop a drone that met those goals and provide images, maps and videos. It also has algorithms that scan data for changes, identifying differences such as corrosion or a hole in the fence that wasn't previously there.
“Intuitive Machines has been an active and committed partner in the Houston Spaceport vision from the beginning, and we are excited to see them earn this opportunity with NASA,” said Arturo Machuca, Ellington Airport/Houston Spaceport General Manager. “It brings together two important partners that share the Houston Spaceport vision for the future.”
In November 2015, the Houston Spaceport and NASA signed an umbrella agreement that allows the Spaceport to tap into the federal space agency’s assets and expertise, expanding the possibilities for the growing commercial spaceflight industry. The Houston Spaceport and NASA will collaborate, providing access to the unique capabilities at the Johnson Space Center, including things like safety-specific training, facilities, and technology capabilities, to support suborbital operations and commercial spaceflight endeavors.