To expand its lunar business, Intuitive Machines to go public

Rendering of Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lander on the lunar surface.
enlarge / Rendering of Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander on the lunar surface.

intuitive machine

A company that makes spacecraft to land on the moon announced Friday that it will go public as it seeks to expand its services in the lunar environment.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines said it will partner with a company called Inflection Point Acquisition Corp. The deal will close in about four months, and the new company, called Intuitive Machines, trades on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol LUNR.

Steve Altemus, co-founder, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines, said the listing would raise $100 million to $400 million in new capital for the company, with an equity value of about $1 billion.

“Intuitive Machines is a pioneer in the commercialization of cislunar space,” Altemus said in an interview with Ars. “If we look at extending our lead and laying out infrastructure around cislunar space, then it’s time to put money in. This really provides the financial resources to take the next step.”

Expand the field

Altemus cites three main areas where Intuitive Machines seeks to move beyond its initial business, placing scientific and commercial payloads of up to 130 kilograms on the lunar surface through its “Nova-C” lander.

Now with the additional funding, the company will be able to begin work on the larger “Nova-D” lander, which Altemus said is expected to be able to land 500 to 750 kilograms on the moon, making it eligible for NASA’s Discovery missions, as well as larger cargo missions.

In addition, Intuitive Machines will work on developing a radioisotope heater for its landers to allow them to survive the “moon night.” For almost the entire lunar surface, a day in sunlight lasts 14 Earth days, while a night lasts more than 14 days. Because it gets so cold in the dark, spacecraft must take special measures on the moon to survive in this environment. Preparing to survive the long moonlit night will significantly increase the value of the scientific and commercial payloads carried on the Nova lander, Altemus said.

The company also hopes to build a constellation of five satellites in lunar orbit to provide precise location information about assets on the lunar surface, as well as 24-hour communications between spacecraft on the lunar surface and mission operators on Earth. Intuitive Machines plans to use the network to provide these services in its own country and to other companies and governments. Finally, Intuitive Machines is also investigating the potential for lunar sample return and satellite services.

All of these initiatives build on the success of Intuitive Machines’ core business of landing on the moon safely. This is no small feat. When NASA’s Apollo 17 mission landed, in nearly 50 years, no U.S. spacecraft had landed softly on the moon, nor had any private company landed safely on the moon.

private moon landing

As part of a multi-pronged approach to returning to the moon with humans, under the auspices of the Artemis program, NASA is paying several U.S. companies to conduct precursor science missions to study potential land areas and collect other data.

Intuitive Machines is one of the most successful companies to win contracts through this commercial lunar payload services program and will use the Nova-C lander on three missions for NASA over the next few years. Each of the three landers will conduct various science experiments for NASA as well as privately purchased payload tanks. The company also sold a purely commercial mission called IM-4 to fly after the first three NASA-sponsored missions, Altemus said.

The company’s first mission, IM-1, recently slipped from the end of 2022 to the first quarter of 2023. The IM-1, launched on a Falcon 9 rocket, was delayed by more than two years due to various issues, including a problem with the vehicle’s propellant tanks, which failed during qualification tests. However, that issue has been resolved and the spacecraft is now undergoing final assembly, Altemus said.

Part of the reason for the new delay to 2023, he said, was NASA’s request to change the landing site from the equatorial region to the moon’s south pole. This will require more planning and preparation as reaching the poles is more challenging. NASA made changes to bring the IM-1 mission closer to where it intends to land humans as part of the Artemis III mission later this decade.

“We’ve done all the analysis, and we’ve done all the design work to get to the South Pole,” Altemus said. “So we knew we could land on our first mission. It took us another few months. But the spacecraft did a great job.”

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