SpaceX blasts private lunar mission to moon’s south pole

  • February 16, 2024

The mission is part of a NASA initiative to bring science and technology to the moon’s surface to support its Artemis programme.

SpaceX has successfully launched a private lander built by US-based Intuitive Machines, which aims to conduct the first US human moon landing in more than 50 years.

The Intuitive Machines spacecraft – known as Odysseus – successfully separated from a SpaceX Falcon9 rocket yesterday (15 February). The mission’s lunar lander appears to be in “excellent health” according to a progress update from Intuitive Machines.

The objective is to bring the company’s lunar lander onto the surface of the moon – specifically its south pole – later this month. If successful, it would mark the first time a private firm successfully lands a spacecraft on the lunar surface.

Japan’s historic attempt at a private moon landing ended in disaster last year, when iSpace lost communication with its Hakuto-R lunar lander as it began to descend at increasing speed to the moon’s surface. Last month, a private US mission to the moon carrying NASA instruments ended in failure after a fuel leak was detected on the spacecraft.

The joint SpaceX and Intuitive Machines mission is being conducted in partnership with NASA as part of its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which involves bringing science and technology to the lunar surface by using private companies.

This is a key part of NASA’s Artemis programme, which aims to conduct manned missions to the moon’s surface.

Marc Sarzi, head of research at the Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, explained that the Artemis programme aims to establish permanent bases on the moon that could serve as launch pads for exploring Mars, mine extremely rare metals or build telescopes that could “peer far into space unencumbered by the presence of an atmosphere”.

“The key to establishing these bases is identifying optimal sites for their construction, such as permanently shadowed craters near the moon’s poles where iced water could sustain human operations,” Sarzi said.

“NASA is using a series of robotic missions to achieve this goal, with the help of private companies, which can help to build and launch these experiments. This is where Intuitive Machines and SpaceX comes in play.”

NASA is planning to send astronauts to the south pole of the moon by 2025, but space agencies around the world have their eyes on this region. Last August, India became the first country to successfully land a spacecraft – the Chandrayaan-3 – on the south pole of the moon.

Meanwhile, a US report issued toward the end of 2023 claimed NASA’s plan to put astronauts on the moon in 2025 is “unrealistic” and that a 2027 launch is more likely.

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