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A new American company is preparing to take off for the Moon

Photo: Luis Robayo Agence France-Presse If everything works properly, a lander will attempt to land on the Moon on February 22.

Lucie Aubourg – Agence France-Presse and Gianrigo Marletta – Agence France-Presse at the Kennedy Space Center and in Washington

4:20 p.m.

  • United States

After the failure of the first American company's moon landing attempt last month, another company must take off from Florida for the Moon on the night of Tuesday to Wednesday, taking in turn the hope of becoming the first private firm to succeed in landing there.

The mission, named IM-1, sends a lander more than four meters high developed by the Texan company Intuitive Machines, founded in 2013.

The craft will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, scheduled to lift off from the Kennedy Space Center at 12:57 a.m. Wednesday. The weather forecast looks very favorable.

Shortly after liftoff, the lander must detach from the upper stage of the rocket and be powered up. Then communication must be established with the Intuitive Machines control room, located in Houston, Texas.

“This is a very proud moment for all of us at Intuitive Machines,” Trent Martin, vice president of space systems for the company, said at a press conference on Tuesday.

“The possibility of allowing the United States to return to the Moon for the first time since 1972,” when the Apollo program ended, “is a technological accomplishment that demands a thirst for exploration,” he added. .

This is the first lunar attempt for this company, but the second under NASA's new CLPS program, which has commissioned private companies to take scientific equipment to our satellite natural, in order to prepare for the return of astronauts.

In January, the Astrobotic company failed to reach the Moon due to a fuel leak, and its lander had to be deliberately destroyed in flight.

NASA assumes the risk of failure of these missions, entrusted to young companies. But, according to her, the game is worth the effort: by relying on the private sector as a simple customer aboard vehicles that do not belong to it, the space agency says it can send more material, more frequently and for less money.

In addition to six NASA instruments, the moon lander also carries six private cargoes, including sculptures by contemporary artist Jeff Koons representing the phases of the Moon.

Next week

If everything works correctly, the lander will attempt to land on the Moon next week, February 22.

Thanks to the fuel used (liquid oxygen and methane), making it possible to install a “very large engine”, the trip to the Moon is done “very quickly”, explained Trent Martin.

The model of this lander is called Nova-C, and the example used for this first mission was named Odysseus.

The planned landing site is a crater near the South Pole of the Moon, which is still little explored.

The six instruments of the American space agency on board should make it possible to study this particular environment.

Four cameras will, for example, observe the descent phase and the dust projected during landing, in order to compare its effects to those of the Apollo moon landings, carried out closer to the equator.< /p>

The South Pole of the Moon is important to NASA, because it is where the space agency wants to land its astronauts as part of the Artemis missions. The reason: there is water there in the form of ice, which could be exploited.

But with the Sun permanently low in the horizon, it can also be extremely cold.

“Because the environment is very harsh, this will give us a reference point to understand how solar panels and instruments work there,” said Susan Lederer, head of the science portion of the CLPS program .

The Artemis 3 mission, which will be the first manned mission to land there, is now planned for 2026.

Flock of missions

The contract signed by NASA for this first Intuitive Machines mission amounts to $118 million.

Two other missions from this company to the Moon, IM-2 and IM-3, are planned for this year. NASA is the “primary customer” each time, Trent Martin said.

In addition to Intuitive Machines and Astrobotic, a third American company, Firefly Aerospace, is also due to attempt the adventure in 2024.

Tests by other companies, Israeli and Japanese, ended in crashes in 2019 and 2023.

National agencies have, however, managed to land on the Moon recently: India this summer, then Japan in January. They thus became the fourth and fifth countries to succeed in the operation, after the Soviet Union, the United States and China.

Teilor Stone

By Teilor Stone

Teilor Stone has been a reporter on the news desk since 2013. Before that she wrote about young adolescence and family dynamics for Styles and was the legal affairs correspondent for the Metro desk. Before joining Thesaxon , Teilor Stone worked as a staff writer at the Village Voice and a freelancer for Newsday, The Wall Street Journal, GQ and Mirabella. To get in touch, contact me through my teilor@nizhtimes.com 1-800-268-7116