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US company Intuitive Machines launches moon mission

February 15, 2024

Following a failed launch by Astrobotic Technology, another private US firm is now conducting its own lunar mission. If successful, it will be the first US-run lunar landing in over five decades.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from its launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida
A new lunar mission has taken off from Cape Canaveral in Florida and arrived into the Earth's orbitImage: Gregg Newton/AFP/Getty Images

Houston-based company Intuitive Machines years launched its spaceship on Thursday. hoping to achieve the first US lunar landing in more than 50 years.

The lift-off took place at the NASA Kennedy Space Center in the US state of Florida at 1 a.m. local time (0600 GMT).

The company launched its Nova-C lander, dubbed Odysseus, on top of a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket produced by Elon Musk's SpaceX.

Seeking first US lunar landing in half a century

An online video-feed broadcast the launch live and showed the 25-story rocket leave its launching pad with a blast of fiery yellow exhaust.

Some 48 minutes later and 139 miles (223.7 kilometers) above the Earth, the moon lander released from its Falcon 9 rocket and set off in the direction of the moon.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch pad LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center
The spacecraft soared over the US Atlantic coast shortly after take offImage: Gregg Newton/AFP/Getty Images

The landing is planned for February 22. The Odysseus is carrying six NASA payloads with instruments that will be used to gather data on the environment before a planned return of astronauts to the moon's surface later this decade.

The last time a US spacecraft landed on the moon was in 1972. If successful, the Odysseus mission will also be the first lunar landing to be carried out by a private company.

Reliance on private firms to cut costs

But NASA's increasing reliance on private companies has not been without its problems.

Thursday's launch comes a month after another private company, Astrobotic Technology, suffered a propulsion system leak after its lander arrived in orbit.

The January 8 launch attempt was the third in a series of failed lunar missions carried out by private companies, following attempts by Israel and Japan.

Private mission to the moon blasts off from Florida

The lunar landing is part of NASA's Artemis missions which are considered a precursor to a future mission to Mars. The state-funded agency has been relying on private firms to cut its costs.

NASA is hoping to put people back on the moon in 2026, pushed back from an earlier target of 2025. It marks a second space race, this time with China, which has stated it aims to land people on the moon in 2030.

China, India and Japan have all managed to land spaceships on the moon in recent years, but none were manned missions.

ab/dj (Reuters, AFP)