Intuitive Machines Debuts $40M Hub for Lunar Ambitions and 3D Printing Tech

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Best known for its pioneering work in lunar exploration and its development of the Nova-C lunar lander, Intuitive Machines (Nasdaq: LUNR) has marked yet another significant milestone. The leading space exploration, infrastructure, and services company inaugurated its Lunar Production and Operations Center in late September 2023. Intuitive Machines has invested $40 million in its state-of-the-art headquarters, which spans 12.5 acres. The site integrates advanced manufacturing zones with dedicated 3D printing areas.

Intuitive Machines first mission, IM-1, Nova-C is scheduled to land on the Moon during the lunar day. Image courtesy of Intuitive Machines.

Located at the Houston Spaceport in Texas, this newly inaugurated command establishes a novel lunar access capability for the US, NASA, and global commercial partners. Construction began in June 2021. The facility is now ready to support the company’s ambitious lunar endeavors, which are already in motion with significant NASA contracts.

Intuitive Machines will spearhead the development of three significant NASA-awarded missions in this new facility. In 2020, NASA assigned Intuitive Machines a $47 million mission to deliver the PRIME-1 payload, aiming to search and harvest ice from the Moon’s South Pole. Then, in 2021, the space agency awarded them $77.5 million to explore the Reiner Gamma lunar swirl by 2024. This mission aims to provide vital insights into lunar swirls and their connection to the Moon’s magnetic field. By July 2023, in collaboration with Zeno Power, Intuitive Machines secured an additional $2.4 million from NASA’s Tipping Point initiative. The funds are destined to develop a system allowing lunar equipment to endure the frigid lunar night.

R&D VP Tim Crain and NASA Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen with Intuitive Machines lunar lander. Image courtesy of NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

Lunar leap

The center accommodates all four of Intuitive Machines’ core business units: Lunar Access Services, Orbital Services, Lunar Data Services, and Space Products and Infrastructure. It aims to bridge Earth and the Moon, ensuring sustainable, safe, and efficient space exploration, as the company has asserted.

“The Moon is no longer a distant dream; it’s a destination within our grasp, and this facility is our lunar gateway – a national asset,” said Steve Altemus, Co-Founder, President and CEO of Intuitive Machines. “We’re proud that the United States‘ return to the Moon will have Houston, Texas, stamped on the shipping container that will leave this facility for launch, and we look forward to working under a roof that matches the technical excellence our employees demonstrate each day.”

Moonshot hub

Spanning an impressive 105,572 square feet, the headquarters will be the nerve center of Intuitive Machines’ lunar program. Capable of manufacturing numerous lunar landers and spacecraft together, the facility boasts advanced manufacturing zones, 3D printing sections, R&D labs, and expansive spacecraft assembly areas. Designed, engineered, and built by Burns & McDonnell, the site integrates mission control rooms, offices, meeting spaces, and other amenities for Intuitive Machines to oversee lunar missions. It also boasts a propulsion test facility for evaluating lunar lander engine prowess.

Described as the “flame range,” this specialized standout features a 3,800-square-foot reinforced concrete chamber bordered by a 25-foot-high wall. It encloses an additional 6,500-square-foot yard, giving numerous advantages for Intuitive Machines’ testing procedures. To be considered safe and ready for use, propulsion systems must meet stringent performance requirements, verified by many testing protocols.

The strategic location of this testing facility is adjacent to the primary manufacturing operations. It promises substantial cost savings in testing setup and enhanced logistical operations. By streamlining the testing and manufacturing processes, Intuitive Machines says it’s now poised to innovate rapidly, producing on-the-fly engine prototypes and parts and ensuring continuous improvement in engine design.

Houston Spaceport. Image courtesy of Intuitive Machines.

Intuitive Machines joins Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace as the third anchor tenant of the Houston Spaceport. This Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)-licensed urban commercial spaceport offers access to a thriving aerospace community. Building on this momentum, the Houston Spaceport also serves as a launch and landing site for suborbital, reusable launch vehicles. It also provides laboratory office space, technology incubator spaces, and expansive hardware production facilities. As the world’s first truly urban commercial spaceport, the site continues the city’s 60-year legacy in space.

“Houston has always been a city that reaches for the stars, and with Intuitive Machines operating at the Houston Spaceport, our city is poised to shine even brighter in the cosmos,” expressed Mayor Sylvester Turner. “Aerospace is more than a source of pride for our city. The innovation here is just another example of why the Houston economy is thriving. Intuitive Machines is fueling high-paying jobs, fostering innovation, and attracting talent and investment from every corner of the world.”

Spaceport spotlight

Houston Airports, responsible for operating and maintaining the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport, has forged a significant partnership with San Jacinto College. Together, they plan to shape the next generation of aerospace professionals. Their collaborative efforts at Houston Spaceport’s San Jacinto Edge Center have already yielded results. Several of its graduates now proudly hold positions at Intuitive Machines.

Mario Diaz, Director of Aviation for Houston Airports, expressed his enthusiasm about the newly inaugurated site, which “confirms that Houston is home to the fastest growing commercial spaceport on the planet and is also home to the first and only 5-Star airport in North America. The skies and the stars are fast converging, and this merger is reshaping how we think about travel, innovation, and human potential. We are delighted to join Intuitive Machines in envisioning a future where humanity’s reach extends even further than we can dare to imagine today.”

This consolidation will foster collaboration among employees and processes from various sites. The move will ensure streamlined operations as Intuitive Machines gears up for its ambitious goal: to become the first private company to make a lunar landing.

Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C will land near the Moon’s equator with NASA and commercial payloads. Rendering courtesy of Intuitive Machines.

At a press conference, Intuitive Machines confirmed its first mission lunar lander, Nova-C, will be shipped from its new facility in late October 2023. This is in preparation for its upcoming launch on 16 November 2023. The hexagonal cylinder lander Nova-C will embark on a mission to deliver five NASA payloads and commercial cargo to the Lunar South Pole. This mission marks the first attempt by the US at a soft landing since Apollo 17 in 1972. It also focuses on various scientific objectives, including studies of plume-surface interactions, radio astronomy, and space weather interactions with the lunar surface. With a second lander on the IM (Intuitive Machines)-2 mission and an IM-3 mission both scheduled to launch in early 2024 on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 spacecraft, the new facility’s timing seems perfect. Many of the company’s cutting-edge projects are edging closer to the Moon.

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