Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Makes It To The Lunar Surface In US Return After Half A Century

Intuitive Machines’ first mission (IM-1) featuring the Nova-C Odysseus lunar lander was launched on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 on February 15th, 2024, as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS). Targeting a landing site near the lunar south pole, it was supposed to use its onboard laser range finders to help it navigate safely for a soft touchdown on the lunar surface. Unfortunately, it was this component that was found to have malfunctioned as the spacecraft was already in lunar orbit. Fortunately, there was a workaround. By using one of the NASA payloads on the lander, the Navigation Doppler Lidar (NDL), the mission could continue.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the use of the NDL as a fallback option was considered before launch, and since its functionality overlaps with that of the primary laser range finders of Nova-C, it was pressed into service with a new configuration uploaded by IM operators back on Earth before Nova-C committed to a landing burn. Then, on February 22nd, the spacecraft began its descent to the surface, which also involved the Eaglecam payload that was designed to be released before snapping a self-portrait of the lander as it descended.

Following the landing, there was initially no signal from the lander, which had everyone fearing the worst. Then, a faint signal was detected, which confirmed that the lander had made it safely to the surface. This makes it the first US-built lunar lander in over half a century and the first privately funded US one. The following day, IM reported that they are still communicating with the lander, and everything looks good so far. This raises hope that it may complete its 7-day mission before lunar sunset, which silences Odysseus forever.

This apparent success of the IM-1 mission bodes well for NASA’s CLPS program after the earlier demise of the CLPS-1 mission involving Astrobotic Technology’s Peregrine spacecraft.

57 thoughts on “Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Makes It To The Lunar Surface In US Return After Half A Century

  1. It’s now been over 18 hours with no video verification of lander health, status or orientation. I hope it’s all Bright Green but the low signal strength suggests a possible less than optimal antenna orientation or damage

        1. BB-8 style, but without the stupid head held in place with magnets. As long as their is gravity it can orientate up correctly. But then the problem would be how do you land it on the surface at a low enough velocity to survive the landing.

          1. You… you could’ve just linked to Mars Pathfinder, because that’s literally how that worked.

            The problem with doing that on the Moon is that since there’s no atmosphere to slow your descent, you need a main engine to do that… which means you have to be in a specific orientation anyway.

          2. > it can bounce on the moon until it finally rests somewhere
            constant speed does not kill, constant acceleration (rate of change of speed) does not kill, what will kill is jerk (rate of change of acceleration) and an object contained inside bouncing balls will still generate some very high jerk (if that is the only means of deceleration from an orbital velocity).

            An example of high jerk would be a car traveling at 100 kph (~60 mph) into a stationary brick wall. But that would be nearly two orders lower when compared to the deceleration from a lunar orbit of say ~0.8 km altitude (half a mile) above the lunar surface (velocity ~6044.4 kph ; ~3756 mph) and that is nearly four orders of magnitude more energy ( K.E. = 1/2 * m * v^2 ).

            So bounce as it may the contents would be useless junk, if it were to fully decelerate from a low orbital altitude of just ~0.8 km ; 0.5 miles.

          3. It may be jerk that kills most physical objects in space, but acceleration can still kill.

            Your heart is not made to handle 100 m/s2 for any prolonged period of time. Or even 30 m/s2 in a direction directly opposite your normal situation in gravity.

  2. > This raises hope that it may complete its 7-day mission before lunar sunset, which silences Odysseus forever.

    I don’t know much about the orbits or sun rise and sun set of the moon.

    Why not land it in a place where the device could run for more then 7 days. Its got solar panels, batteries, and a radio. Even if it just responds to pings saying that its still alive that would be neat.

      1. “Good application for an RTG though.”


        That would be the most reasonable solution, I think.
        There’s hard radiation in space, anyway, so it wouldn’t make a difference to the moon.

        Unfortunately, though, I believe to remember that the restrictions for the RTG material are now greater than they used to be.

        If that wasn’t the case, the ISS might have had gotten a proper reactor or a set of RTGs, as well.

        I mean, even the big old Soviet satellites for TV ran on such a power source once.Or so I’ve heard.

        Solar power is fine and cute, but a nice little RTG is more reliable. ;)

      2. RTG doesn’t solve the thermal maintenance problem, just complicates it. Now you cycle between having 1500 W/m^2 incident plus your RTG heat and just the RTG heat. So now instead of having problems staying warm in the night, you have problems staying cold in the day. Can’t turn the RTG off!

        And once you solve the thermal problem, batteries will work fine.

          1. Sputnik had used a fan for cooling.

            “A temperature regulation system contained a fan, a dual thermal switch, and a control thermal switch.[60] If the temperature inside the satellite exceeded 36 °C (97 °F), the fan was turned on; when it fell below 20 °C (68 °F), the fan was turned off by the dual thermal switch.[58] If the temperature exceeded 50 °C (122 °F) or fell below 0 °C (32 °F), another control thermal switch was activated, changing the duration of the radio signal pulses. ”


            OSCAR-1 and 2 had used stripes for temperature control, I vaguely remember.
            That’s what the photography suggests, at least.


            Maybe those guys can still learn something from their former enemies – or their own ancestors, at least.

            Because sometimes, studying history can help us seeing things in a greater picture.

          2. Sigh. Satellites are easier, the timescales are shorter.

            I don’t know how to explain this better other than to say these are well-understood issues and there are plenty of thermal modeling tools out there to do it. There is no “just use a pencil!” solution. It’s just a physically hard problem, and there is no “one size fits all” solution, and there is no random idea from the 1970s that someone hasn’t thought of.

            There are literally reams of papers out there talking about surviving the lunar night and the challenges involved.

    1. “I don’t know much about the orbits or sun rise and sun set of the moon.”

      7 days = 1 week = 1 quarter of lunar day = half of the sunlight available (more or less)

      Riding out the lunar night is possible, but very difficult. This is only the second CLPS launch, there’s no way they could’ve designed the payloads to survive the night (with high probability) in that timeframe. They do plan on having payloads/landers with that capability, it just wasn’t part of the first CLPS call.

  3. Sounds like while on its side all systems are go. Solar is keeping the battery(s) charged. Neat to see on it’s ‘very first try’ it navigated to the moon surface and got there in one piece. From the discussion that think it may still have been moving a bit horizonally on touch down and a leg my have caught on a rock or something. We’ll see when pictures arrive. Also neat, that the team was able to change Lidar lasers while in flight. The ones that were supposed to be used, was found to be disabled by a manual safety switch. I bet there is going to be a note in the prep manual before buttoning up for launch!

  4. Just some questions:

    Why are the lander designs tall as opposed to squat?
    Why do they have legs instead of say skids that would assume some horizontal velocity?
    Why are all missions seemingly dependent on landing in a precise orientation?
    What would a mission designed to provide irrefutable evidence of success look like eg. onboard beacon that could be seen from earth, a camera pod dropped at the same time as the lander, etc.
    Why is it still so hard to land on the moon when there must have been lessons learned from the moon landings using ancient technology?

    1. I can take a stab at a couple..
      Tall vs squat -to fit the fairing? Though one might think about lowering the center of gravity as much as possible (would assume/hope they did)
      Legs vs skids – skids like on helicopters need to be oriented in a particular direction to work? Though if rounded pads (mini “bb8″s as mentioned above) on legs were used might help if no rocks nearby (lots of rocks seen in LEM footage IIRC)
      Precise orientation? Thrusters need to be pointed down, solar panels pointed at sun, movable items or “self-righting” equipment means more mass (money as well)
      irrefutable evidence- good ideas (there was just such a camera to be jettisoned before landing, but could not be launched). Be aware that for some such evidence will never exist no matter what
      Why so hard – Standard answer from space fairing spokes-people “space is hard”

      other questions:
      RTG material in short supply but “hot” nuclear waste is abundant, why not use some of that as just a heater?
      Why are news outlets still saying this and Japanese lander are successful and not a crash? Try convincing the FAA or NTSB your upside-down Cessna made a successful landing.

      And off topic but never found anyone to ask:
      Why the hell aren’t emergency steam powered water pumps built in to every PWR (pressurized water reactor) to ensure core stays covered even without power?

      1. “RTG material in short supply but “hot” nuclear waste is abundant, why not use some of that as just a heater?”

        Because you can’t turn it off. Surviving the lunar night is a thermal management problem, not a power problem.

      2. The best RTG material emit beta or alpha particles, which are easily shielded. Neutron and gamma emission are problematic for anything nearby, and shielding is prohibitively heavy.

        “Hot” nuclear waste isn’t actually as energetic as RTG materials (only about a tenth of a watt per gram), and the power drops off a hundred-fold in a hundred days.

        Those tipped-over landings are successful because the device can still talk and think after landing. Landing without creating a new crater the first time you attempt it is a major achievement. It’s a shame, though: I don’t think the laser retroreflector has a wide enough acceptance angle to be useful, and I suspect that there are other experiments that cannot be performed from such a relaxed position :-)

        Off topic, who knows why they’re not built into *every* BWR, but they’re certainly a part of the GE BWR/2, BWR/3 and BWR/4 reactor design. The subsystem is called the HPCI. The NRC has a ton of fascinating literature available:

        1. “The best RTG material emit beta or alpha particles, which are easily shielded. Neutron and gamma emission are problematic for anything nearby, and shielding is prohibitively heavy.”

          And why not using analog or electro-mechanical solutions then?
          Relay logic, for example?
          They’re less vulnerable to radiation.

          Or let’s just go back to 1970s TTL technology?

          These chips had a lower integration density that wasn’t so vulnerable to
          “hits” by highly energetic particles.

          Using core memory would ensure even more reliability, too.

    2. Presumably it’s tall rather than squat because it has to fit in a launch vehicle. Landing in a precise orientation is probably cheaper than giving it systems to reorient itself. Don’t know what you mean about evidence… is the radio signal not a good enough beacon? It’s hard to land on the moon because the moon has no atmosphere, you have to match your momentum with the surface while gaining velocity from gravity.

      1. “Landing in a precise orientation is probably cheaper than giving it systems to reorient itself.”

        Reorienting itself isn’t actually even the problem. The reason it needs to “land” in a specific orientation is that you only want to have one main engine, and you need to use it for getting to the moon (point engine away from moon) getting into lunar orbit (point engine toward-ish moon), getting out of lunar orbit (point engine perpendicular to moon) and getting to the surface of the moon (point engine toward moon).

        It didn’t tip over because the orientation was off, it tipped over because both the lateral and vertical speeds were too high. If it had been slower it would’ve handled being slightly off-axis perfectly fine. You’re *always* going to have to come down very close to vertical.

    3. It is harder to do now because our technology got better, not in spite of it. Also other factors, but those are very difficult to get into. Decline in quality in general since the late 60s and new management methods. Lack of military men in the chain.

      1. “Better” is a subjective term, though.

        You can build, say, a battery charger with a high-tech digital battery management system.
        Or you can use a humble incandescent lamp.

        While the high-tech solution might seem superior at first glance, it might not be in practice.

        The incandescent lamp is radiation proof and fail-safe.
        If it burns out for whatever, the charging stops. It acts like a fuse here.

        Really, let’s just think about it.

    1. Just because an idea is totally bat $#1+ crazy does not meant that it will not work. e.g. Mars 2020 Perseverance rover that was lowered to to the surface with a rocket power sky crane.

    2. You’re welcome.

      Yes, it’s indeed a fact that the individual sometimes has a better overview than a hive of drones.

      NASA “engineers” (are they legit engineers or just self-acclaimed experts ?) aren’t the very creative, necessarily.

      These are merely employees, probably.
      They work at NASA for various reasons.

      Also, we must keep in mind that people from other places on earth don’t have money in the mind, all the time.

      They do certain things without getting paid, because they’re fascinated by a certain topic.That’s an important detail, maybe.

      I’m speaking under correction, but to an foreigner like me, life in the states seems highly being dominated
      by success and money and NASA is more of a company, right now.
      It don’t looks like a federal agency anymore, I mean.

      About the term “expert”.
      An expert is someone who knows a lot about very little (a very small field).

      A “professional” isn’t necessarily someone who’s good in a specific field, but primarily earns money for practicing that profession.

      Likewise, an “amateur” isn’t a fumbler, but some who’s into a specific field for non-commercial reasons.
      Be it curiosity, fascination or social reasons. Or something else.

      That’s why hobbyists or amateurs may have less of an in-depth knowledge, but also have a larger overview.
      They can add their existing knowledge about other fields into the mix.

      So yes, it’s good if lay(wo)men ask questions and discuss things who’re considered being “beyond their horizon”.
      Because doing so, they will enrich the experts of a specific field who’re mentally stuck.
      They will bring back commonsense, too.

      1. Nur mal so: “I’m enjoying all the experts in the comments who know so much better than NASA engineers.” war sarcasmus.

        I’d thank you to stop insulting people you don’t know in a country you (self admittedly) know nothing about.

        People work for NASA because they want to and because they want to help accomplish the things that NASA does.

        Money enters into it because people have to live. There have been times and jobs in my life that I (as an American) would have done for free just because I liked to doing them – except for the pesky need to buy food to eat and pay rent to have a place to sleep.

        Not everyone (not even a majority) of the people in the USA are money grubbing bandits with nothing more in mind than filling their bank account.

        Not everyone in Germany is a holy monk living from air and pious thoughts.

      2. “but to an foreigner like me, life in the states seems highly being dominated by success and money and NASA is more of a company, right now.”

        Literally all the things you’ve been talking about are in *published, open-access papers*, covered in numerous conference proceedings, and several of them have open-source available software which you can play around with.

        The biggest frustration I have is that you think that things are easy because you’ve got a bizarre idea of how things worked in the past. Let me be *exceptionally clear* – NASA had *tons* of failures in the Apollo era.

        Tons. People died. Probes were *regularly* lost. This stuff is *nothing*.

        1. Absolutely! In the past NASA *had* to over-engineer everything because it had to be done new. Literally nobody had that experience before, nobody had been able to take the full measure of the problem. For the first time through it all had to be as methodical and complete as possible. But the real kicker is it also had to be human-safe, because there needed to be a human pilot at the stick to successfully land on the lunar surface.

          Something the OP may not have realized is that the moon shot in the 1960s took about 10% of the US budget for a decade. It wasn’t just a lot of money, it was an unthinkable amount of money.

          And yes, this mission was filled with new stuff: a commercial collaboration instead of a NASA mission, a 3D printed motor, autonomous landing, a polar site, etc.. But it was mostly built on existing knowledge, and it was built without the need to safely return some humans to Earth when the mission was over. By dialing down on that super expensive bit they were able to run a (relatively) quick iteration for a lot less money.

          That doesn’t mean the engineering wasn’t spectacular — it was. But it means the amount of engineering was appropriate, which is of high importance when spending a limited slice of a budget. And it means that if the lander tripped on a rock during landing, you can still call it a success because you aren’t worried about the astronauts being able to get home again.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.