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Intuitive Machines Delays Lunar Lander Mission to Mid-February Due to SpaceX Launch Delays

Intuitive Machines has announced the delay of its first lunar lander mission, IM-1, by a month to mid-February after unfavorable weather conditions resulted in shifts in the SpaceX launch manifest.

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Wed Dec 20 2023Written by Zac Aubert

Intuitive Machines, a Houston-based aerospace company, has announced the delay of its first lunar lander mission, IM-1, by a month to mid-February.

Originally slated for a launch window between January 12 and 16, the IM-1 mission was planned to utilize a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A. This launch pad was chosen due to its unique capability to support the lander by providing equipment to fuel it with liquid oxygen and methane propellants shortly before liftoff.

In a statement, Intuitive Machines explained that it had reached an agreement with SpaceX to reschedule the launch.

"In coordination with SpaceX, launch of the Company’s IM-1 lunar mission is now targeted for a multi-day launch window that opens no earlier than mid-February 2024. The updated window comes after unfavorable weather conditions resulted in shifts in the SpaceX launch manifest."

The delay appears to be associated with the scheduling of the Falcon Heavy launch of the U.S. military’s X-37B spaceplane, originally planned for earlier in January. However, the X-37B launch has been pushed to no earlier than December 28, primarily due to technical issues rather than weather conditions.

The process of converting Launch Complex 39A from Falcon Heavy to Falcon 9 typically takes about 3 weeks, based on previous transitions between the two rocket variants. The gap between the Falcon Heavy and Falcon 9 launches on the same pad, even in the shortest instance of approximately 17 days, would push the IM-1 launch towards the end of its originally planned window and SpaceX has the upcoming AX-3 private crew mission to the ISS to launch first.

Intuitive Machines reassured that its lunar lander, which arrived in Florida earlier in the month, has completed various pre-launch processing milestones and is ready for integration onto the Falcon 9 rocket.

Originally hoping for a mid-November launch, Intuitive Machines showcased the completed lander at a media event in early October.

The company had previously cited "pad congestion" as a concern and officially announced the delay to the January window on October 27. While not providing a detailed explanation at the time, Intuitive Machines later indicated in an earnings call that launch pad conflicts were a significant factor in the schedule adjustment.

The company did not specify a more precise launch period for IM-1 beyond mid-February.

The initial January 12-16 launch window would have set the stage for a landing attempt on January 19 or 21, targeting the lunar south polar region near the Malapert A crater.

The revised schedule for Intuitive Machines raises the possibility of two lunar landings within days of each other in February. Astrobotic, another aerospace company, also announced on December 19 that its Peregrine lander is ready for launch as early as January 8, setting up a landing attempt on February 23.

Both Peregrine and IM-1 are part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, carrying both commercial and NASA-provided payloads under awards granted in 2019.