LAS VEGAS – NASA placed a $ 77.5 million order for Intuitive Machines on Nov. 17 to deliver four payloads to the lunar surface in 2024.

NASA said it selected Intuitive Machines and its Nova-C lander for the 2024 mission, the seventh in its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The lander will touch down in Reiner Gamma, a “lunar vortex” near the western edge of the moon’s front, which is connected to a strong local magnetic field, the origin of which remains unclear.

“Observing lunar vortices can give us information about the moon’s radiation environment and perhaps how we can mitigate its effects,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s assistant science administrator, in a statement. “With more and more scientific and technological demonstrations on the lunar surface, we can help prepare sustainable astronaut missions through Artemis.”

The mission, called IM-3 by Intuitive Machines, will deliver four payloads to Reiner Gamma with a total mass of 92 kilograms. Lunar Vertex will study the region’s magnetic field using instruments on the lander as well as a separate rover. The Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE) will deploy small rovers to work together as an autonomous team to study the lunar surface. MoonLIGHT from the European Space Agency is a laser retroflector. The Korea Astronomy and Space Science Institute provides the Lunar Space Environment Monitor (LUaSEM) to measure high-energy particles.

IM-3 is Intuitive Machines’ third lunar lander mission, all of which use their Nova-C lander. The IM-1 mission is currently scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2022 and attempt to land on Oceanus Procellarum. IM-2, slated for the fourth quarter of 2022, will fly to the south pole of the moon.

The company announced plans for IM-3 in August. Select SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to launch the lander. At the time, Intuitive Machines said it had not selected a landing site for the mission and the lander had an “open manifesto for commercial and civilian customers.”

The mission will also be able to carry up to 1,000 kilograms of secondary payloads on a dispenser ring that can be used in lunar orbit. Intuitive Machines said the IM-3 mission will carry a data relay satellite called Khon2 to be placed on Earth-Moon L-2. This is part of its lunar data relay utility called the company’s Khonstellation, which includes a communications satellite that will be placed in lunar orbit on the IM-2 mission.

“This victory is another example of our commitment to laying the foundation for a sustainable long-term presence on the lunar surface,” said Steve Altemus, President and CEO of Intuitive Machines, in a statement.

The award is the seventh in the CLPS program. In addition to the three Intuitive Machines landers, Astrobotic has won two missions, and Firefly Space Systems and Masten Space Systems have won one each. Three of these missions – IM-1, IM-2, and Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lander – are slated to launch in 2022.

“We went from 50 years with nothing to the moon to seven deliveries planned over the next three and a half years,” said Chris Culbert, manager of the CLPS program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in a panel discussion at American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics’ ASCEND Conference November 17th. These seven missions will carry more than 45 NASA instruments, from small experiments to the VIPER rover, which will search for water ice at the south pole of the moon.

“Relying on commercial companies allows us to work much faster and we are very pleased with the prices for these services,” he said, but added a caveat. “You haven’t actually landed on the moon yet, and this last step is very important.”

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