Intuitive Machines Becomes First Commercial Firm To Land On Moon

Return to the moon. First commercial entity (Intuitive Machines) successfully lands spacecraft on lunar surface

The United States has successfully returned to the moon for the first since the last Apollo mission in December 1972.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines confirmed on its website and in a post on X (formerly Twitter) that its Odysseus robot on 22 February had landed near the lunar south pole, marking the first time ever that a commercial organisation has successfully landed its hardware on the moon.

A number of commercial organisations are planning or have undertaken missions to the moon, but so far none have deemed to be successful, demonstrating the engineering complexity of the task. Only government entities have (until now) landed hardware on the moon.

Image credit: Unsplash

Return to the Moon

Two other private moon landers had achieved a lunar orbit in recent years. In April 2019 an Israeli Beresheet probe crashed during its landing attempt.

Then in April 2023 Japanese startup ispace had attempted to ‘soft-land’ its M1 lunar lander on the moon, but it lost contact with its Hakuto-R Mission 1 (M1) lander, and later admitted that its moon lander had likely crashed.

But now Intuitive Machines in a post on Twitter has claimed that its Odysseus robot has landed on the moon. At the time of writing there are no accompanying images of the lunar surface.

“After troubleshooting communications, flight controllers have confirmed Odysseus is upright and starting to send data,” the firm stated. “Right now, we are working to downlink the first images from the lunar surface.”

NASA’s administrator Bill Nelson has hailed the development, saying “what a triumph for humanity.”

Search for water

The Odysseus lander touched down near the lunar south pole on the evening of 22 February, after being launched into space aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on 15 February.

“What we can confirm without a doubt is, our equipment is on the surface of the moon and we are transmitting,” mission director Tim Crain said, after that milestone moment. “Odysseus has found his new home.”

This south pole location is important, because NASA plans to set up one or more Artemis bases in the moon’s southern polar region, which is thought to harbour lots of water ice.

It was in October 2020 when NASA had officially confirmed for the first time, that water was found on the sunlit surface of the Moon.

But NASA is seeking to collect more data, so it can determine how much water there is, and how easy it is to access this vital resource for when a moon base is to be established on the lunar surface.