NASA’s Intuitive Machines Moon Mission Ignites With Revolutionary Liquid Methane Engine

Odysseus Fuel Pressurant Tank Aboard IM-1 Mission

A view of Earth and one of Odysseus’ fuel pressurant tanks aboard the IM-1 mission. Intuitive Machines is a commercial company that has been contracted by NASA to send its science and technology instruments to the Moon. Columbia Sportswear is a commercial payload contracted with Intuitive Machines. Credit: Intuitive Machines

NASA’s lunar mission with Intuitive Machines showcases successful launch, innovative engine testing, and advanced navigation technology for precise lunar exploration.

After a successful launch on February 15, six NASA science instruments and technology demonstrations continue their journey to the Moon aboard Intuitive Machines’ lander named Odysseus. The company confirmed communications contact with its mission operations control in Houston, and its lander continues to perform as expected.

Known as IM-1, Intuitive Machines successfully transmitted its first images back to Earth on February 16. These were captured shortly after separation from SpaceX’s second stage, on Intuitive Machines’ first journey to the Moon as part of the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative and Artemis campaign.

Within an hour of launching, NASA confirmed data was streaming from the agency’s powered science and technology instruments aboard the flight. This means data from these instruments was automatically streaming back to the teams so NASA could monitor the health and status of its instruments.

Intuitive Machines Nova-C Lunar Lander View of Earth

A view of Earth captured by a 186-degree wide field of view camera aboard Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lunar lander. The start of this image sequence occurred 100 seconds after separation and lasts for two hours. Credit: Intuitive Machines

Later, Intuitive Machines successfully commissioned Odysseus’ engine which means they exercised the engine’s complete flight profile, including the throttling required for landing. The engine, which uses liquid methane and liquid oxygen, is the first of its kind fired in space.

One of the NASA instruments, the Radio Frequency Mass Gauge is gauging the cryogenic propellants on Odysseus throughout the mission. Data files have been collected and many have been downloaded for analysis. Throughout the propellant loading phase that took place before launch, the instrument collected data, which was downloaded and analyzed in near-real time. Data also is being collected during the microgravity transit phase of the mission. This analysis will continue through landing on the Moon.

Another NASA instrument, Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator, integrates navigation and communication functionality. This science instrument will operate for the first time today and daily during the cruise phase as the landing date draws closer. The radio beacon is designed to support precise geolocation and navigation observations to orbiters, landers, and surface personnel, digitally confirming their positions on the Moon relative to other craft, ground stations, or rovers on the move. The check-out helps prepare to land on the Moon as the navigation demonstrator aims to gather this data throughout the duration of the surface operations phase of the mission. Over the next day, flight controllers will analyze the data from this procedure to inform preparations for landing on Thursday, February 22.

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