Engineers at Intuitive Machines (IM) in Houston have selected an area in Ocean Procellarum, near Vallis Schröteri – the largest valley on the Moon, comparable in size to the Grand Canyon – as the landing site for its IM-1 lunar mission, tentatively scheduled for 11 October, 2021, the company announced on 13 April.
Also called the Ocean of Storms, Oceanus Procellarum covers over 10% of the entire Moon and features a diverse array of geological features. NASA considered a site near Vallis Schröteri for Apollo 18; now, IM is taking up the baton to conduct the initial survey.
NOVA-C, the first lander wholly developed by a private company, will deliver commercial cargo and five NASA-provided payloads to the lunar surface. These payloads will conduct scientific research and technology demonstrations as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme, in preparation for sending astronauts back to the Moon in 2024.
The NOVA-C Flight Dynamics team considered every available detail within one degree of the selected location to identify an ideal 200m landing site for the mission. The selected site is flat, free of large craters and rocks and has abundant sunlight throughout the 14-day lunar day.
“This kind of lunar landing assessment hasn’t been done since the 1972 Apollo mission,” commented IM President and CEO, Steve Altemus. “The tremendous effort our team has put forth to fully characterise our descent approach, landing site options and lighting conditions to ensure mission success is a paramount task required to fulfil our obligation to our private payload customers and NASA.”
“Our Flight Dynamics team really outdid themselves evaluating trajectories and landing conditions during each launch window,” added IM Vice President of R&D, Dr Tim Crain. “They managed to design this landing site that is supported across our primary and secondary four-day launch windows. No one in Houston has looked as seriously at landing sites for a funded lunar landing mission in almost 50 years.”
The site is very interesting from a scientific perspective. Believed to have been formed from a collapsed lava tube, the surrounding area may contain material from the beginning of the Copernican period – one billion years ago.
Nova-C will launch on a SpaceX FALCON 9 rocket from the NASA Kennedy Space Center, nominally on 11 October 2021, with multiple subsequent launch opportunities. This launch epoch allows for a near-optimal transfer with a 6-day transit from Earth to the Moon and provides 14 days of sunlight after landing. The IM-1 mission will test an automated Precision Landing and Hazard Avoidance (PLHA) landing system, created by IM, paving the way for NASA astronauts to land on the lunar surface.