Houston co. receives $77M NASA contract for lunar mission
Houston-based Intuitive Machines LLC is on track to be the first private U.S. company to land a spacecraft on the moon.
The company received a fixed-price contract totaling some $77.2 million from NASA to develop, launch and land its Nova-C spacecraft on the surface of the moon, according to a May 31 press release. The award also includes an additional incentive of $2.5 million. The mission will be the first in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, for which Intuitive Machines and eight other U.S. companies were selected for consideration by NASA in late November 2018. Intuitive Machines was the only Houston-based company selected for NASA’s program.
NASA also selected Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology Inc. and Edison, New Jersey-based OrbitBeyond for similar payload missions on May 31, according to Spaceflight Now.
When the company was initially selected by NASA, Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus told the Houston Business Journal that its inclusion in the CLPS program did not guarantee anything aside from developing a payload user guide. After being awarded this contract, the Houston company will develop a lunar lander capable of hauling a 220-pound payload and transmitting data from the moon’s surface back to Earth during the machine’s 13.5-day mission, per the release. The Nova-C mission is planned for 2021.
"All of us at Intuitive Machines have great passion for space and exploration," Altemus said in the release. "Our experience in developing autonomous systems, precision navigation, and cryogenic propulsion lends itself perfectly to the challenge of landing Nova-C on the moon.”
Intuitive Machines develops the lunar landers at its facility at Ellington Airport’s Houston Spaceport. The company’s relationship with the Houston Spaceport dates back to 2015, when Intuitive Machines became the first tenant in the Houston Aerospace Support Center, according to a June 5 press release from the Houston Airport System.
"We are grateful for the tremendous privilege and honor to be awarded this contract,” said Dr. Kam Ghaffarian, executive chairman of Intuitive Machines. “I have dreamed of going to the moon since, as an 11-year-old boy, I saw Neil Armstrong's historic first step onto that new world. Today, Intuitive Machines begins a journey back to the moon in the culmination of my boyhood dream.”
Intuitive Machines was founded in Houston in 2013 by former NASA aerospace engineers Altemus and Dr. Tim Crain — who serves as lunar architect for the company — and Ghaffarian, an entrepreneur and investor. Outside of its presence at the Houston Spaceport, the company has an office in the Boeing building at 3700 Bay Area Blvd near the Johnson Space Center.