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Nova-C Lunar Lander
Nova-C Class IM-1 Odysseus in preparation for launch
ManufacturerIntuitive Machines
DesignerIntuitive Machines
Country of originUnited States
OperatorIntuitive Machines
ApplicationsLunar payloads delivery and support
Spacecraft typeLunar lander
BusNova-C Bus
Launch mass1,900 kg (4,200 lb) [1]
Payload capacity100 kg (220 lb) [2]
Power200 W (0.27 hp)[2]
Design lifeAfter landing, 14 Earth days max.
Length3 m (9.8 ft) [3]
Diameter2 m (6 ft 7 in) [3]
StatusIn production
On order2
Maiden launch01:05 a.m. EST, 15 February 2024[4]
Related spacecraft
Derived fromProject Morpheus[2]
Flown withFalcon 9 Block 5

Mission Motto:
(I will touch the plains of the Moon)


The Intuitive Machines Nova-C, or simply Nova-C, is a class of lunar landers designed by the American company Intuitive Machines to deliver small commercial payloads to the surface of the Moon.

Intuitive Machines was one of nine commercial landing service providers[5] selected by NASA in November 2018 to submit bids for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.[6] In 2019 NASA awarded Intuitive Machines a "task order" for the delivery of a scientific payload to the Moon.[7] In 2021 Intuitive Machines received a US$77 million dollar contract to conduct lunar landings for NASA.[8]

Nova-C lunar landers are not designed to withstand the cold temperatures of a lunar night. They are designed to remain operational approximately 14 Earth days, the length of the sunlit portion of one Moon day.[9]

The first of three Nova-C landers, the "Mission IM-1/ Nova-C Odysseus" launched on 15 February 2024 at 1:05 AM EST.[4] Its successful landing on the Moon would be the first soft Moon landing for an American made spacecraft since Apollo 17, more than 50 years ago. The landing would also be the first time a private company made a successful soft landing on the Moon.[10][11]

The second Nova-C lander with the IM-2 mission is scheduled for a launch in March 2024,[12][dubious ] and a third Nova-C lander on the IM-3 mission is scheduled for June 2024.[13][dubious ][14] All three landers will launch on SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle.[15][16][17][18][19]

The Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander program is a part of the NASA Artemis program, one of whose long term goals is to establish a permanent manned base on the Moon.


The Nova-C design was developed by Intuitive Machines, inheriting technology developed by NASA's Project Morpheus.[2] Its pressure-fed VR900 main engine uses methane and oxygen as liquid propellants, pressurized by helium gas,[20] to produce 4,000 N (900 lbf) of thrust. The lander structure is a hexagonal cylinder with six landing legs. It includes solar panels which can generate 200 W of electrical power on the lunar surface.[21] For attitude[a] control the vehicle uses a helium reaction control system.[22]

The lander includes autonomous landing and hazard detection technology and once landed is still capable of relocating itself to a second landing site by performing a vertical takeoff, cruise, and vertical landing.[2][1] Propellant is loaded onto Nova-C at the launch pad alongside propellant loading of the launch vehicle.[23] Nova-C is capable of 24/7 data coverage for its client payload, and can hold a payload of 100 kg.[2]

Mission control

Nova-C operations are conducted from a private mission control center. The IM-1 mission partners with Fugro SpAARC for contingency mission control.[22] Use of "Nova Control" and the associated Lunar Data Network ground stations are also offered as commercial services.

IM-1 mission

Intuitive Machines (IM) named their first lunar lander for the IM-1 mission as Odysseus.[24] According to IM, "IM-1 is a ... mission aimed at creating a commercial lunar economy, delivering commercial payloads and NASA science and technology payloads that will pave the way for a sustainable human presence on and around the Moon."[22]


In 2021, IM signed a US$77 million contract with NASA to build and launch the first Nova‑C as a part of NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.[8] IM is to produce the first three landers for this program, which are tasked with delivering small payloads to explore and test various new technologies, and to analyze and process some of the natural resources of the Moon.[25]


On 31 January 2024 the Odysseus spacecraft was encapsulated in the payload fairing of its Falcon 9 Block 5 launch vehicle.[26] On 13 February, two wet dress rehearsals loading Odysseus with propellants were successful and IM announced that they were ready for launch.[27][28] SpaceX rescheduled the Odysseus launch from 14 February to February 15, reporting "non-nominal" temperature onboard the Odysseus methane tank.[29] Odysseus was launched at 1:05 AM EST on 15 February 2024.

Trans-lunar operations

Trent Martin, IM vice president of Space Systems, described the steps used during transit to the Moon. After separation from the launch vehicle the Nova Control operations center will establish communication with the lander and conduct initial checkouts. About 18 hours later the lander is scheduled to perform a main engine “commissioning burn.” Martin described it as a “critical step” for the mission.[30]


For the IM-1 mission the Nova‑C lander Odysseus carries six NASA-sponsored instruments. The lander also carries six payloads from other customers, including EagleCAM.[31][32] The lander will operate for one lunar day, which is equivalent to about 14 Earth days.[19] The planned landing site has changed several times. At one point it was to land between Mare Serenitatis and Mare Crisium.[33][31] As of February 2023, the site will be at Malapert A near the lunar south pole.[34]

The lander also carries the sculpture Moon Phases by Jeff Koons within its payload. This would be the first sculpture installation to reach the Moon since Paul Van Hoeydonck's Fallen Astronaut sculpture was placed on the Moon by David Scott of Apollo 15 in 1971.[35][36]

A Radio Frequency Mass Gauge (RFMG) payload is included to estimate how much propellant is available during the IM-1 mission. This is the first long-duration test of an RFMG on a standalone spacecraft.[37]

Name Agency/Company Type
Nova-C Odysseus Intuitive Machines Lunar lander
* ILO-X [38] International Lunar Observatory Instrument
* Laser Retro-Reflector Array NASA Instrument
* Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing NASA Instrument
* Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator NASA Instrument
* Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies NASA Instrument
* Radiowave Observations at the Lunar Surface of the photoElectron Sheath (ROLSES)[39] NASA / University of Colorado Boulder Instrument
* Tiger Eye 1 [40] Louisiana State University Instrument
EagleCAM [41] Embry–Riddle Aeronautical University CubeSat
Lunaprise [42] Galactic Legacy Labs Memorial
Moon Phases[43] Pace Verso / 4Space / NFMoon Sculpture

Lunar landing

Map showing location of the Malapert "satellite craters."

The IM-1 Odysseus lander is projected to take five to six days to travel from the Earth to the Moon. Once in the vicinity of the Moon, the lander will then spend approximately one more Earth-day orbiting the Moon. This would set February 22, 2024 (exact time TBD) as the lander's "estimated lunar landing date".[44][45] The initial aim is to land at the Malapert-A crater, which is about 300 km (190 mi) from the lunar south pole.[22][46]

EagleCam to record lunar landing

Just before landing, at approximately 30 m (98 ft) above the lunar surface, Odysseus will eject the EagleCam camera-equipped CubeSat. Once ejected, the EagleCam will land on the lunar surface somewhere near the lander. From the surface the EagleCam will attempt to capture the first third-person images of a lunar landing.[47] The EagleCam will utilize a Wi-Fi connection with the Odysseus lander to relay its images back to Earth.[41]

IM-2 mission

IM was selected in October 2020 in order to land its second Nova-C lander near the lunar south pole. As of February 2024, IM-2 is expected to be launched in March, 2024.[12][dubious ] The primary payload, PRIME-1, include the TRIDENT ice drill to sample ice from below the lunar surface and the MSolo mass spectrometer to measure the amount of ice in the samples.[48][49]

ILO-1 prime contractor Canadensys is working to deliver "a flight-ready low-cost optical payload for the ILO-1 mission, ruggedized for the Moon South Pole environment". It could potentially be ready for integration on the IM-2 mission.[50]

The µNova (Micro Nova) Hopper will separate from the Nova-C lander after landing and function as a standalone hopper lander, exploring multiple difficult-to-reach areas such as deep craters on the lunar surface.[51][52]

A lunar communications satellite will be deployed on this mission to facilitate communications between the lander and ground stations on Earth.[52]

Spaceflight will deliver rideshare payloads on this mission aboard its Sherpa EScape (Sherpa-ES) space tug called Geo Pathfinder.[53][54]

The MiniPIX TPX3 SPACE payload, provided by the Czech company ADVACAM, will be onboard the NOVA-C lunar lander. This payload is designed to monitor the radiation field on the Moon and help understand how to protect crew and equipment from the negative effects of cosmic rays. This marks the first Czech payload planned to be delivered to the Moon's surface.[55][56]

IM-3 mission

In August 2021, IM selected SpaceX to launch its third lunar mission IM-3, at some point in 2024.[17] As of February 2024, the launch date has been narrowed down to taking place during the month of June 2024.[13][dubious ] It will deliver payloads to the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.[57][58] There the lander will conduct experiments investigating the properties of the unexpected magnetic field that has been detected in the vicinity of the Reiner Gamma swirl.[59]

Possible future Nova-C lander deployments and uses

The Nova-C lander was designed to be compatible with the fuel sources that are strongly believed to be available on both the Moon and on Mars, namely methane and oxygen. For future missions, methane and oxygen could potentially be "harvested" wherever the Nova-C lander may be based using In-situ resource utilization (ISRU) (off-world resource processing technologies).[60][61] The Nova-C lander design also provides a technology platform that can be scaled up to mid and large lander classes, and which is capable of accommodating larger payloads.[25]

Nova-D successor

In an interview with NASA recorded in October 2023 Tim Crain, CTO of Intuitive Machines, mentions the possible development of a Nova-D lander.[62]

See also

Other commercial US lunar lander programs

Some of the more notable US lunar lander programs are:[63]

Lunar lander programs by country


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  1. ^ attitude here refers to orientation of the spacecraft, not distance from a planetary surface