Intuitive Machines has identified a landing site for a commercial lunar lander mission next year that will carry payloads from NASA and other customers.
The Houston-based company announced April 13 that its IM-1 lander mission, scheduled for launch in October 2021, will touch down near a valley called Vallis Schröteri in Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean of Storms. That valley, or rille, is the largest on the moon, and was under consideration by NASA as a landing site for the Apollo 18 mission before that mission’s cancellation.
Within that region, the company said it found a desirable landing site, 200 meters across, for its lander. Images of the landing site from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter show that site to be flat and devoid of large craters or rocks that would be a hazard to the lander. It will also have abundant sunlight throughout the lunar day, which lasts 14 Earth days.
Intuitive Machines was one of nine companies selected by NASA for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program in November 2018, eligible to compete for task orders to carry payloads to the lunar surface. The company won one of the first task orders competed by NASA in May 2019.
At the time of the announcement, the company said it was planning to send the lander to either Oceanus Procellarum or Mare Serenitatis, with a launch scheduled for July 2021. Company spokesman Josh Marshall said April 13 the company pushed back the launch three months to mitigate the effect of a protest filed by another CLPS company, Deep Space Systems, to that task order award. That protest was later denied by the Government Accountability Office.