Intuitive Machines picks a launch date and landing site for 2021 Moon cargo delivery mission

The first private company scheduled to make a delivery of scientific cargo on behalf of NASA has specified a landing site and a target date for its mission. Intuitive Machines will seek to land its Nova-C lunar lander at a site called the Vallis Schröteri, which is the largest valley found on the Moon, and a fairly flat area that gets plenty of sunlight and doesn’t have any large craters or rocks to trip things up.

Intuitive Machines will be looking to launch on October 21, 2021, with subsequent backup dates available in case that’s not possible. The company has contracted SpaceX to launch Nova-C aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. This mission will not only carry a range of science experiments for NASA, which will be used to help the agency gather more information in preparation for its Artemis missions (which seek to return humans to the Moon), but it’ll also include some commercial payloads.

The whole point of the Commercial Lunar Services Program (CLPS) under which Intuitive Machines was awarded this mission is that NASA is seeking to partner with private industry for carrying a number of preparatory and supply payloads for its Artemis missions — with the hope that these partners will also be able to sign up other private entities as clients to help offset the cost of mission. In general, NASA under current Administrator Jim Bridenstine has espoused a policy of aggressively seeking public-private partnership where possible to pursue cost benefits through commercialization of space.

One of the key payloads on board Nova-C is a precision automated landing system that’s designed to help the lander avoid any potential hazards on the ground, which is a crucial system that will also be used to land astronauts back on the Moon in 2024 (provided NASA’s Artemis mission timelines don’t slip).