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SpaceX rocket blasts off carrying a U.S. firm’s spacecraft on a mission to land on the moon and end America’s 50-year lull

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A SpaceX rocket blasted off Thursday carrying a US firm’s spacecraft on a mission to land on the moon and end America’s 50-year lull.

Called Nova-C, the spacecraft built by Houston-based Intuitive Machines Inc. will attempt to touch down on the south side of the lunar surface on Feb. 22.

If successful, Intuitive Machines will claim a title that has eluded numerous companies and nonprofits who have shot for the moon in recent years: the first to land a privately built spacecraft on the lunar surface.

Up until now, only spacecraft built and operated by governments, often with large price tags, have made it to the moon’s surface in one piece. The US hasn’t landed a spacecraft on the moon intact since 1972.

The track record for companies has been less successful. 

Commercial spacecraft launched by groups in Israel and Japan have made it to the moon but didn’t survive the landing. And in January, Intuitive Machines’ US rival, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology Inc., launched its moon-bound spacecraft but suffered an engine failure, making a landing attempt impossible.

Nova-C will be carrying six payloads for NASA and five commercial ones under a contract that has grown to roughly $100 million since being awarded by the US space agency in 2019, Intuitive Machines Chief Executive Officer Stephen Altemus told Bloomberg News in an interview earlier. 

The contract was part of a NASA program designed to speed development of commercial robotic lunar landers that can carry NASA materials to the moon.

As it was working on Nova-C, Intuitive went public in a 2022 blank-check deal that put the company’s value at more than $1 billion. Its current market capitalization is around $481 million, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. 

Intuitive Machines also plans to build out a constellation of satellites orbiting the moon for communications and navigation, as well as develop other lunar space technologies.

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