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Intuitive Machines (Nasdaq: LUNR) Fourth Quarter & Fiscal Year 2023 Earnings Conference Call - Full transcript

Operator: Welcome to Intuitive Machines Fourth Quarter 2023 Conference Call. At this time, all participants are in a listen-only mode. After the speakers' presentation, there will be a question-and-answer session. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. Now I would like to turn the conference over to your host, Stephen Zhang,  of Investor Relations.

Stephen Zhang: Thank you.

Operator: Please go ahead.

Stephen Zhang: Good morning. Welcome to the Intuitive Machines fourth quarter 2023 earnings call. Chief Executive Officer, Steve Altemus; and Interim Chief Financial Officer, Steven Vontur are leading the call today. Before we begin, please note that some of the information discussed during today's call will consist of forward-looking statements, setting forth our current expectations with respect to the future of our business, the economy and other events. The company's actual results could differ materially from those indicated in any forward-looking statements due to many factors. These factors are described under forward-looking statements in the company's earnings press release and the company's most recent 10-Q filed with the SEC. We do not undertake any obligation to update forward-looking statements. We also expect to discuss certain financial measures and information that are non-GAAP measures as defined in the applicable SEC rules and regulations. Reconciliations to the company's GAAP measures are included in the earnings release filed on Form 8-K. Finally, we posted an earnings call presentation on our website, which provides additional context on our operational and financial performance. You can find this presentation on our Investor Relations page at www.intuitivemachine.com/investors. I'll now turn the call over to Steve Altemus.

Steve Altemus: Thanks, Stephen. Welcome, everyone, and thank you for joining us. Today, we'll delve into Intuitive Machines fourth quarter financials covering our fiscal performance and strategic initiatives. Moreover, we'll share updated information reflecting our recent successes, underscoring our current standing as the only U.S. company to ever land on the surface of the Moon. Intuitive Machines' decision to go public last year was driven by a vision to democratize access to the Moon and catalyze the emergence of a lunar economy. This historic move paved the way for groundbreaking lunar exploration and a unique opportunity to broaden access to the Moon for the general commercial population. I've been looking forward to the day when we could join this call and say we accomplished that mission. Exactly one year after going public, Intuitive Machines launched its IM-1 mission and one week later on February 22, we successfully landed, marking the United States' first lunar landing in over 50 years. The successful landing, recognized by the White House, by NASA and our commercial customers fundamentally disrupted the economics of landing on the Moon, while substantially retiring the cost of developing a lunar program, including our Nova-C class lunar lander. This same core lander class is currently scheduled for at least two more missions under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services Initiative or CLPS program, which secured its budget under NASA's new appropriations bill. The recently enacted fiscal year 2024 NASA budget continues to support CLPS along with several other Artemis initiatives. And up next, we expect the announcement of the agency's first Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services contract in early April, responding to the company's first bid as a Prime contractor in the agency's Artemis campaign. The final spending bill appropriated $24.9 billion, which was approximately $2 billion less than the NASA's request. The majority of the $2 billion shortfall was in the Mars sample return program, a program Intuitive Machines has not submitted proposals into. While NASA has openly discussed the cost overruns and program delays for its On-orbit Servicing, Assembly and Manufacturing program or OSAM, there is language in the bill that preserves funding through fiscal year 2024. This preserved funding continues the planned revenue of the company's OMES [Omnibus Multidiscipline Engineering Services] III contract. Despite these political adjustments, NASA's budget continues to bolster the company's roadmap, as we leverage the success of IM-1 to diversify revenue streams and provide a reliable cadence of lunar missions and services. For example, NASA's Near Space Network Services award is still scheduled for May. As a company, we recognize that returning the United States to the Moon for the first time since Apollo 17 was truly an integrated global effort. We worked with government agencies, multiple departments within NASA, the FAA, the FCC and a series of domestic and international partners through our Lunar Data Network and supply chain. Additionally, there is geopolitical and policy alignment with the return to the Moon. As recently described in Defense Intelligence Agency Report titled: "Challenges to Security and Space", China and Russia value superiority in space. The efforts of countries such as China, India, Russia and Japan highlight the values placed on superiority in space by other countries. This has ignited a 21st century space race that is well underway. Amid the surge in geopolitical lunar activity that has recently seen nation states succumb to the challenges of spaceflight, we believe the success of IM-1 mission puts the commercial industry firmly into the space race. Our co-operation with agencies and other countries positions IM as a first mover in this race. The IM-1 mission delivered over 100 kilograms of payloads and shuttled numerous technology demonstrations to the lunar surface. It operated more than 144 hours on the lunar surface, transmitting more than 1.7 gigabytes of science and engineering data across all commercial and NASA payloads. The landing and data delivery from the lunar surface resulted in more than $12 million in success milestone payments in 2024, across NASA and commercial customers. The mission landed further south than any vehicle in the world has ever landed on the Moon, establishing a foundation marked by numerous pioneering achievements, including validating the company's scalable liquid methane and liquid oxygen propulsion system, a future-facing technology we believe is the next step in propulsion innovation required to travel further into our solar system. Our first of its kind vision processing and autonomous landing technology landed within 9.9 degrees from the Moon's South Pole. Massive craters, steep slopes and difficult lighting conditions marked this ominous region of the moon. Proving our autonomous landing technology on our first mission sets the stage for IM-2, which is intended to land on the Moon's South Pole at the Shackleton connecting ridge to search for water ice that may be processed for propulsion and life support in the future. The commercial and NASA payloads on IM-2 complement the pursuit of water on the Moon and the effort to establish a foothold on the South Pole, where NASA's $93 billion Artemis campaign is targeting human missions this decade. IM-2's propulsion and structural components are being assembled in-house and we completed integration of NASA's ice mining drill in the fourth quarter. In addition, Intuitive Machines' Micro-Nova [µNova] Hopper designed to search for water ice in permanently shaded regions of the Moon completed thermal vacuum chamber testing before the end of the year. Since concluding the IM-1 mission in February - on February 29, our team transitioned into assembling and integrating the IM-2 mission lunar lander. It uses the same core Nova-C class vehicle as IM-1, allowing us to capitalize on schedule and cost efficiencies. The team assessing IM-1 data identified just a handful of adjustments will carry over into the IM-2 mission to optimize and refine performance. We will complete the assembly and integration process with only these minor adjustments to the flight proven Nova-C design. Intuitive Machines has been working with NASA to finalize engineering and landing site selection on IM-2, which may marginally impact our targeted 2024 launch time. The IM-1 mission success extends beyond our Lunar Access Services business unit. At the start of the call, I touched on global integration. Intuitive Machines has achieved remarkable success in globally integrating radio astronomy addition[ly] from over a dozen countries, positioning ourselves as the sole commercial provider to validate a lunar distance data service from the Moon's surface. This feat underscores the company's leadership in Lunar Data Services, further demonstrated by its successful augmentation and interoperability with NASA's Deep Space Network. We believe this creates a clear advantage in our pursuit of NASA's Near Space Network Services contract award in the second quarter. In one year's time, the Orbital Services business unit has moved from an incubated idea to a mature revenue and profit center for Intuitive Machines. The Orbital Services business unit secured and is executing on the Omnibus Multidiscipline Engineering Services contract or OMES III, with $12.5 million in revenue recognized in December 2023, OMES III has been instrumental in driving the unit's success. Moreover, the connection between OMES III and NASA's OSAM project is notable as Congress has appropriated funds for OSAM, ensuring continued revenue for that project within the OMES contract through the fiscal year. As Congress pushes for OSAM project performance improvements, Intuitive Machines remains committed, working with NASA through the completion of the OSAM mission under the OMES contract. As Intuitive Machines eagerly [awaits] NASA's announcement for the agency’s Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services contract, the company is diligently preparing for potential award. NASA's LTVS contract holds a total program value of more than $4 billion structured across two phases of award with multiple potential awardees. The first phase expected shortly after first quarter of 2024, entails a feasibility assessment, the award amounting to approximately $30 million over one year. If awarded, this phase aims to mitigate risks associated with developing the company's Nova-D Cargo class lunar lander and advancing the Lunar Terrain Vehicle design. The Intuitive Machines led Moon Racer team is comprised of aerospace and automotive leaders such as AVL, Boeing (NYSE: BA), Michelin (EPA: MICP) Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) [, and Roush] and is poised to leverage this opportunity to propel the next generation of lunar surface mobility. Following the successful completion of the Phase 1 feasibility assessment, Intuitive Machines anticipates bidding on the second LTVS award. This award is earmarked for developing and delivering the Lunar Terrain Vehicle to the Moon. As the company continues demonstrating its capability and reliability in lunar operation, the LTVS award is anticipated to focus on continuity, on delivering infrastructure supporting both NASA's Artemis campaign and commercial interest. We believe this groundbreaking endeavor positions Intuitive Machines as a key player in advancing lunar infrastructure. Furthermore, Intuitive Machines' IM-1 mission served as a platform for validating groundbreaking space products and infrastructure with notable achievements including validating the company's proprietary and scalable VR900 liquid methane/liquid oxygen engine. This engine was validated through the first ever deep space ignition followed by multiple restarts, demonstrating reliability in providing successful spacecraft maneuvers to the lunar surface. Positioned as a future-facing technology, we believe liquid methane and liquid oxygen propulsion are the next evolutionary steps in propulsion technology, which are essential for enabling travel further into the solar system, using the resources we know are already available on other celestial bodies. Other mission elements such as software integration for vision processing and creator recognition for autonomous landing technology were also successfully validated. With these achievements, Intuitive Machines is fielding inquiries and exploring potential opportunities to enter the market with these validated space products. Building on this momentum, the company has submitted its past performance data to NASA for consideration in their next CLPS mission award. We've also attracted a surge of interest from commercial and international partners, including space agencies. We are forging a new relationship with the world-leading cancer research team, interested in leveraging the zero gravity environment for science and medicine. Our Lunar Data Services team is exploring interest in data relay satellite tasking using our flight-proven network and mission operations center. We are reengaging commercial brand partnerships to push traditional earthbound retail technology innovation, while extending new Columbia sportswear innovations to our second mission. Finally, at the start of the call, I mentioned the global landscape of space exploration witnessing a remarkable increase in geopolitical activity with nations worldwide intensifying their efforts to return to the Moon and explore beyond. Last week, South Korea unveiled ambitious plans to establish a new space industry cluster backed by over $1 billion in funding through 2027. The cluster will foster spacecraft development and astronaut training. We view investments in exploration like this with admiration and appreciation, recognizing its positive impact on the global pursuit of scientific advancement. And recall at the end of fourth quarter of 2023, Intuitive Machines formed a strategic partnership with Boryung Corporation, South Korea's premier healthcare investment company, focusing on bolstering critical infrastructure and fostering new research and development ventures in space. This strategic collaboration exemplifies Intuitive Machines' commitment to aligning itself with the evolving global landscape of space exploration. As Intuitive Machines continues to forge partnerships to diversify revenue, the company remains dedicated to staying at the forefront of the shifting dynamics in space exploration. Aligning with this global momentum, we believe Intuitive Machines is strategically positioned to capitalize on the growing interest in space and the Moon, and we're making tangible progress in that pursuit. With that, I'll turn the call over to Intuitive Machines Interim Chief Financial Officer, Steve Vontur.

Steven Vontur: Thank you, Steve, and thanks to everyone joining us today. I'll begin by going through our fourth quarter 2023 results and a few key highlights. We ended the fourth quarter with a contracted backlog of $268.6 million, an increase of $133.4 million and nearly double versus the prior quarter. This backlog includes the first half quarters from the OMES III contract, along with $17.6 million for an International Space Agency payload to be delivered on a future mission and $9.5 million for the Department of Defense, Air Force Research Laboratory JETSON award. As Steve mentioned earlier, we expect more opportunities to expand backlog this year, as we respond to a steady flow of RFP [Request for Proposal] and RFI [Request for Information] request since our successful lunar landing as well as the award decisions coming on key programs such as LTVS, CP-22 and NSNS. Revenue in the quarter was driven primarily by NASA's CLPS contracts and related mission payloads, along with one month of OMES III revenue totaling approximately $12.5 million. The company concluded the fourth quarter with $30.6 million in revenue compared to $38 million in the fourth quarter of 2022. Gross margin improved versus prior quarters and was a positive $1.5 million in the current quarter, driven primarily by the OMES revenue in December. Operating loss was a negative $5.9 million versus $13.0 million in profit for the same quarter of the prior year. Note that the prior year included a one-time NASA change order to move our IM-1 landing location, which came with incremental revenue and high drop through down to income. In addition, Q4 2023 saw higher cost of revenue as well as public company costs, since the leaseback in February of 2023. On the cash side, we ended 2023 with a cash balance of $4.5 million, which is after a debt pay down of $12 million in the quarter. We have only $8 million of debt remaining on our balance sheet. Note that as of March 1, 2024, our cash balance increased to $54.6 million driven by $50.6 million of warrant exercises from an institutional investor along with a $10 million equity strategic investment. In addition, we have invoiced NASA along with other commercial payload customers, the mission completion payments for IM-1, totaling approximately $12.5 million as a result of our successful landing. This will further strengthen our cash position for the year. It's worth noting that, our March 1 cash position is the largest balance since any quarter end position last year, and we believe provides us with sufficient capital for the near-term, given our continued capital and cost discipline. Going forward, we will continue to be opportunistic in the capital markets for defensive capital to further strengthen the balance sheet. We became shelf eligible on March 1 and as a good housekeeping measure, we plan to file an S3 self-registration statement following our 10-K. Operating cash used during the quarter was $22.3 million with CapEx of $2.2 million, resulting in free cash flow in the quarter of an outflow of $24.6 million. As previously discussed, with the completion of our new lunar production and operations center, CapEx was normalized in the fourth quarter compared to recent quarters. Going forward, CapEx is expected to be significantly lower relative to the prior year, excluding the impact of any new awards and associated CapEx requirements. Looking ahead, we expect 2024 to be a transformational year for us, both operationally and financially, building up our recent mission execution success. On the revenue side, we expect sales to expand significantly this year based on the current backlog. Our revenue outlook in 2024 could be further favorably impacted if we are successful in winning our existing pursuits, such as LTVS, CP-22 and NSNS. We expect gross margin will continue to improve as we execute on OMES, as well as drive cost efficiencies for IM-2 and IM-3 given the prior development and learnings from our successful IM-1 mission. Q1 in particular is expected to be favorable, given the full quarter OMES execution along with the final NASA and commercial payload payments for IM-1. As I mentioned earlier on backlog, we expect continued backlog growth this year driven by key program awards. LTVS is expected to be awarded in the coming weeks with NSNS and the next CLPS award, CP-22, expected sometime in Q2, 2024. Additionally, we have seen a significant uptick in request for proposals and information following our successful lunar landing and we hope to capitalize on our momentum. On the cash side, with $54.6 million as of March 1 and the final IM-1 success payments to be collected, we will remain well capitalized to execute on existing contracts to fund future growth. Overall, we come into 2024 from a position of financial strength. We've expanded our cash position with lower debt, we've grown backlog, our margins are improving and our future opportunities are brighter than ever. We look forward to another successful year of execution. With that, operator, we are now ready for questions.

Operator: Today's first question is coming from Austin Moeller of Canaccord Genuity. Please go ahead.

Austin Moeller: With IM-2, the revisions that you have to make, I guess, they're relatively minor. Does that still put you in a position to launch that mission in 2024?

Steve Altemus: Steve Altimus here. We have been through a review of reconstructing the mission and identified the areas that needed adjustments in terms of antennas and cameras and software changes, certainly laser rangefinder enable switch harnessing improvements, those have all been made. We really don't see any impacts to the schedule based on the changes from IM-1. They are fairly straightforward. We are working with NASA closely, as NASA is repositioning our landing site. They want to get to an area where they have some confidence that there might be water ice on the South Pole. We are adjusting the landing site to the Shackleton connecting ridge and what that does is, that might have a marginal impact generally, but we are still planning for a 2024 mission for IM-2.

Austin Moeller: And just a follow-up on NSNS, do you expect to be able to collect more revenues from that program once the first [COM] satellite is positioned in lunar orbit?

Steve Altemus: Actually there is what they call -- when we anticipate an award notification in the May time frame, as I indicated in my opening remarks. And that contract is structured in a way where NASA funds what they call a verification task order, and that verification task order is to put in place that basic initial operating capability that gives you the data relay from around the Moon back to Earth. And so, it's not necessarily singular to a satellite that we put around, but it's getting through that verification phase of the data relay satellites over a period of, I think, it's 24 months - 24 to 36 months - to get that verification done. After that's accomplished the service revenue would kick in.

Operator: The next question is coming from Joshua Sullivan of The Benchmark Company.

Joshua Sullivan: Just as far as the Near Space Network Service contract. What weight is put on past performance? And now that Intuitive has validated lunar data service from the Moon, can you just provide us any detail on kind of the contract structure waiting?

Steve Altemus: Let's see. I might not be able to correlate it directly to a weighting number. However, we know the contract procurement process is moving forward as several of the vendors, including Intuitive Machines, of course, have made the competitive range and NASA has opened up oral discussions and talked to us about clarifications and asked for a final proposal for that. We know the procurement is moving forward. We know also that the relevant experience and past performance was they requested updates to that and specifically updates based on our mission success from Mission 1. That gives us some confidence that we are moving forward in the process and closer to an award hopefully in the May timeframe, Josh.

Joshua Sullivan: And then just on the changes or potential changes in the landing site for IM-2. Are you expecting any change payments as you received for IM-1 when that happened?

Steve Altemus: Yes. In fact, we are. NASA sent us yesterday a request for tax order modification to impact from a cost and schedule standpoint and technically what it would take to move to this particular landing site on the Shackleton ridge. It's just very close to an original landing site, but there's been back and forth and analysis that's been done. All that will be costed and submitted back to the government here in the first week of April, and then we will accept that modification and certainly we will cover our costs that we would anticipate based on that movement in the schedule.

Joshua Sullivan: And then just one last one. As far as the lunar terrain vehicle contract, are you still bidding as a Prime there?

Steve Altemus: Yes, Josh. We are really proud as Intuitive Machines enters human spaceflight as a Prime contractor on the Artemis program's LTV. That's a developed lunar terrain vehicle or moon buggy with Intuitive Machines as a Prime. The Moon Racer team includes ABL, an automotive company, includes Boeing, Northrop Grumman and Michelin to name a few [Roush]. We have a really powerful team. We're very confident in our capability and our design. We're looking forward to hearing about that next week or in the coming weeks. So it represents a significant entrance for us as essentially system integrator for Artemis program element. What's interesting about that, I don't know if folks know is that, that's really a blend of a NASA element that is owned and operated by the commercial entity, which is [Intuitive] Machines in this case. While NASA is operating the rover with their astronauts, when they're not there, Intuitive Machines can operate that rover autonomously and provide services for commercial customers and international governments for mobility on the surface and to collect science and engineering data. It really becomes an asset of Intuitive Machines on the Moon that's operating for up to 10 years.

Operator: The next question is coming from Andres Sheppard of Cantor Fitzgerald. Please go ahead.

Andres Sheppard: Congratulations on the quarter. Let me just once more share my congratulations on our first successful mission. I wanted to maybe just touch on the backlog, $268 million can you just remind us over what time period you might expect to recognize that into revenue? And then additionally, with now $12.5 million in revenue collected from the OMES contract, should we expect that kind of similar run rate on a monthly basis over the next five years? Is that the best way to think about it?

Steven Vontur: Yes. This is Steve Vontur, Andres and thanks for the comments. The majority of the increase in backlog that we see at year-end came from the OMES task orders. And so that's a one year set of task orders that we were awarded. We will expect to burn that off in 2024. As far as the run rate, we expect the $12.5 million in December is right on par with what we expect monthly throughout the rest of the past quarter term.

Andres Sheppard: I guess, just on liquidity, you mentioned your cash balance as of end of March. I'm curious, what kind of margins are you expecting throughout the year and how are you thinking about that capital needs? Obviously, you're going to have the OMES contract kicking in every month, every quarter. Do you foresee a need to have to raise additional capital? Or do you feel like you're in a good place now given where you are?

Steven Vontur: Overall, on margins, we expect margins to improve. OMES is a big factor there since it is a positive margin contract in our outlook. The rest of the cash balance that we currently have, we believe will be sufficient to get us through the remainder of the year, without any further awards that we are currently pursuing. I think that's the best way to look at our current cash balance as of March 1 and how it burns through the rest of the year. Then, anything we get awarded would hopefully be positive to that cash flow forecast. Does that answer your question?

Steve Altemus: I would add one other piece, Andres, is that, we will continue to remain opportunistic about capital raise in the future to keep looking at ways to accelerate the growth of the company. Like Steve said, we are confident that the cash balance carries us through the year that's with no additional wins. But we are in a fantastic position for awards on LTV and CP-22, that next CLPS award. We can't forget about that one, that's moving forward and the NSNS contract. And so, with the existing contract backlog we have this year, which will burn off nearly 80% of that this year, and those additional contract awards that puts us in a great position moving forward even beyond 2024. And then should we have delays like we experienced last year, we are still sufficient capital on the balance sheet to get us through 2024.

Andres Sheppard: And maybe if I could just squeeze one last one regarding the LTV contract. I just want to make sure, I’m understanding this correctly. I think you said you expect this contract to be decided over the next few weeks, if I heard correctly? And then the Phase 1, you expect that to be awarded to multiple teams, if I understand correctly. I guess, what would be the contract work that you are targeting for that Phase 1 or what's the best way to think about that?

Steve Altemus: Yes. The Phase 1 work, we believe there will be essentially two phased awards and each one is a gate to move to the next phase. We think this is a multiple award, where two or more teams might win an award in Phase 1. And what that will be the preliminary design and assessment of the delivery system. In this case, it's our Nova-D Cargo lunar lander that takes about 1.5 metric tons to the lunar surface. It is also the preliminary design and assessment of the LTV itself. That's a 12 month period, priced at roughly $30 million. We expect two or three awards, like I said. The follow-on then will be a result of that to take the design to a full maturation. And then we think the full value of that contract is on the order of $4.5 billion over a 10 year period and that will be divided under multiple awardees, we believe.

Operator: The next question is coming from Suji DeSilva of ROTH MKM.

Suji DeSilva: Congratulations, guys. The LTV award, sorry, I have a bad word. The LTV award for Phase 2, isn't there significant synergy if you're providing the Nova-D and the lander that would derisk that? That would make that a fairly significant consideration in that award.

Steve Altemus: Absolutely, Suji. That was our intent and our strategy going into the bid, it was to put a team together that can provide a complete service with demonstrated ability to deliver such a high value piece of cargo for the Artemis program to the surface of the Moon. With our first mission success, it really just puts us standing tall in terms of our competitiveness to that procurement.

Suji DeSilva: My other question is on the staffing you're at now and the Houston operations center you opened up. In supporting these incremental pipeline awards, are you at a staff where you could support those? Would that need to be incrementally added? Just any thoughts there would be helpful.

Steve Altemus: Currently, we're staffed both here in Houston at our Luna Production Operations Center and up in Maryland based on that OMES contract for satellite servicing and the Nova work we're doing on OMES III. We have adequate staff. As we look at these awards, it's a first world problem to add incremental staff to organize and manage the work as it comes in. We anticipate that we'll remain fairly flat in terms of staff needs and burn rate this year, even with these significant awards because, number one, we've rolled off Mission 1. So that if we do receive a CP-22 award that work force will roll into CP-22, which is the next CLPS award. And then the LTV and NSNS contracts, as I've talked about have other team members that will also provide workforce. We're not necessarily looking for a large ramp-up this year in workforce associated with these contracts that we're talking about, just the minor adjustments as we go forward.

Operator: The next question is coming from Mike Crawford of B. Riley Securities.

Mike Crawford: I guess this is for Steven Vontur. Did you say that of the $269 million of backlog that you expect to recognize 80% or $215 million of that as revenue in 2024?

Steven Vontur: Approximately. That would be primarily the OMES contract, as I said earlier, we are burning at about $12.5 million in revenue on that. And then the rest would be CLPS contracts, IM-2 and 3.

Mike Crawford: And then of the $12.5 million of success payments you expect to receive from IM-1, is that out of a possible how much of success payments were you eligible to potentially receive?

Steve Altemus: While we highlighted that one, Mike, that's the way we broke it down with the milestone, the only payload that we did not receive data back was SCALPSS payload, which studied the engine plume interaction with the dust on the surface of the Moon. And so we held back 5% based on that payload not activating, not collecting that data. However, we were able to get data to replace that through our own cameras that give us good understanding of the regular behavior and we are going offer that back to NASA. We expect the combination of about 95% of the NASA payment to be received and then an augmentation for equitable adjustments for the additional data that we can deliver to NASA that puts us well over 100% of the planned payment.

Mike Crawford: Just finally one kind of broader question, while we are waiting for department final NDAA, would besides just continuing resolution, we do have a NASA budget, although it's flattish. Is there anything that you like or don't like about the massive budget that you just received?

Steve Altemus: Like I said in my comments, the budget is probably $2 billion less than requested by NASA. And when we first looked at it, it looks like the roadmap that we put together as a company for commercializing cislunar space and providing infrastructure to the Moon is fully supported and we like that. That puts us, that means we're on the right track, and it shows that the government is still committed to returning humans to the Moon in a sustainable way. And so, that's a really fantastic outcome to have such strong bipartisan support for the Artemis campaign. We did see -- I did mention the OSAM project, which is On-orbit Satellite Servicing and Manufacturing that's under the OMES contract. When we took over that contract that project had some cost challenges and schedule challenges. And so, we're working very closely with NASA to put that project back in the box and get it launched and under the cost bogey that NASA was looking to meet. We received notice from the spending bill or the appropriations that funding is in place for the task order in 2024. But the future is not set there. Should we, NASA and us as the Prime contractor not be able to put that back in the box, there's a chance that the will to fly that one won't be there. And so there's a little uncertainty there in the OMES contract after 2024. That's the only piece that you asked that would give us some pause, and that's the one that I mentioned in my opening remarks. But we're confident, we have a plan for that one and we're at full funding. These task orders run year-by-year. There is a considerable amount of alternative work that fits that OMES contract. It's an Omnibus Multidiscipline Engineering contract. So a number of projects and programs within Goddard fall under that contract. And so if we see the OSAM project under a threat, we'll have additional work, I'm sure, provided by the center and NASA to protect those jobs up in Maryland. Other than that I think I'm very pleased with where the NASA budget is.

Operator: Thank you. There are no further questions. I'd like to turn the floor back over to Intuitive Machine's CEO, Steve Altemus for closing comments.

Steve Altemus: Thank you, everyone, for joining today's call. I appreciate thanks for our successful landing on February 22nd. It was truly a monumental event. Intuitive Machines made history with that soft-landing on the Moon. We look forward to representing the United States and our stakeholders, as we make more historic achievements in the months and years to come. Thank you very much.

Steven Vontur: Thank you, guys.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your participation. This concludes today's event. You may disconnect your lines or log off the webcast at this time and enjoy the rest of your day.

March 24, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Embark with Intuitive Machines and set sail on the cosmic seas of opportunity

3.27.2024 breaking news: Texas Governor @GregAbbott_TX has appointed Intuitive Machines VP of Production and Operations @Astro2fish as a member of the Executive Committee of the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium. The Texas Space Commission will work to strengthen Texas’ proven leadership in civil, commercial, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in the fields of space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, including the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. The Commission is governed by a nine-member board of directors, who will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities. | Texas Governor GregAbbott: Proud to LAUNCH 🚀 the Texas Space Commission today at @NASA in Houston! The Commission will further cement Texas’ place as a leader in space exploration. As we look to the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas.



Embark on a journey with Intuitive Machines (IM, NASDAQ: LUNR); position yourself and set sail on the cosmic sea of opportunity. Trailblazer IM has etched its name in the annals of space exploration not just as a participant but as a concomitant leader - a vanguard - in a bourgeoning new and exciting space age/race. With a historic lunar landing that marked the United States' triumphant return to the Moon after over 50 years, Intuitive Machines has proven the ability to reach its ambitious goals through both savvy leadership and awe inspiring teamwork, demonstrating great mettle in meeting and overcoming many difficult challenges.

Here's why Intuitive Machines is a stellar investment:

[1] Innovation. and Leadership: At the forefront of lunar exploration, their IM-1 Nova-C class lander Odysseus' (endearingly named Odie) successful soft-landing on the Moon showcases IMs' great technical leadership/teamwork, mastery, prowess and reliability.

[2] Financial Growth: IM concluded 2023 with a $268.6 million backlog, nearly doubling in Q4, driven by OMES III task orders, an International Space Agency lunar payload, and the Department of Defense, Air Force Research Laboratory JETSON award. This remarkable growth trajectory showcases the company's expanding market influence and operational success.

[3] Strategic Partnerships: Valued partnerships with NASA, Nokia (NOK) [IM-2, Tipping Point Initiative], AVL, Boeing (BA), Lunar Outpost, Michelin, Northrop Grumman (NOC), Rousch  [Lunar Terrain Vehicle - LTV],. contracts worth millions, and what will most surely total billions, underscores their industry significance.

[4] Market Potential: IM is well-positioned to capitalize on the burgeoning space industry, with a market potential of over $120 billion, and valuable patent portfolio (see at end, below)

[5] Operational Efficiency: IM achieved a positive gross margin despite challenges, thanks to revenue from key contracts,.

[6] Future Prospects: The alliance with the U.S. Space Force through the JETSON contract [and what is likely to be more contracts under the Department of Defense], international cooperation with European Space Agency (ESA) as well as further interest from ESA and other international partners as to using IM's services [all serving as definitive global partner handshakes], as well as already established lunar missions under NASA CLPS, and other slated payloads and plans in relation to governmental/commercial lunar missions going forward, all go toward being a key player and leader in our Moon's cislunar economy; plus more innovative and attention bringing sponsorships like Columbia Sportswear's Omni-Heat™ technology on the lunar surface, all highlight and will empower Intuitive Machines' role in advancing space technology and exploration to new heights, garnering IM more attention - of which future commercial (national and international) business and sponsorships will most certainly do. All of these factors as well as accolades from US President Joe Biden, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, recognition of IM as a vanguard for Artemis by the NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy, bode well and as a certainty, will further solidify IMs' pivotal role in the technological cislunar space economy; IMs expanding technology services aim, not only for near space/cislunar space, but will most certainly go further beyond.

Intuitive Machines stands as a beacon of innovation, a pioneer in the new epoch of lunar exploration [in addition to much more], and a symbol of international cooperation and sponsorship synergies. Their achievements are not only technological triumphs but milestones in the collective human endeavor to have a positive impact in many arenas for our planetary, offplanet endeavors, and more beyond.

Plus ultra!


Further valuable IM intel:

A Sample Portfolio of Patents Paving the Path to the Stars [patents showing Intuitive Machines' innovative edge, as well as intrinsic value of their patent portfolio].

Intuitive Machines' impressive array of U.S. patents is a testament to their commitment to innovation and excellence in lunar exploration:

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Propulsion System. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that uses a single propulsion system for both orbit insertion and landing maneuvers, reducing mass and complexity. The propulsion system consists of a main engine and four thrusters that can be independently controlled and gimbaled to provide thrust and attitude control. The patent demonstrates that this design can increase the payload capacity and reliability of the lunar lander, as well as simplify the mission planning and execution.

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Payload Module. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that has a detachable payload module that can be deployed on the lunar surface, allowing for multiple payloads to be delivered by a single lander. The payload module can also communicate with the lander and other modules via a wireless network, enabling data exchange and coordination. The patent demonstrates that this design can reduce the cost and complexity of lunar missions, as well as increase the flexibility and scalability of lunar exploration.

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Solar Array. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that has a foldable solar array that can be deployed after landing, providing power for the lander and the payload module. The patent demonstrates that this design can extend the mission duration and capabilities of the lunar lander, as well as reduce the dependency on batteries and fuel cells.

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Communications System. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that has a high-gain antenna and a low-gain antenna that can communicate with Earth and other spacecraft, providing reliable and secure data transmission. The patent demonstrates that this design can enhance the scientific and commercial value of lunar missions, as well as enable future lunar networks and services.

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Navigation System. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that has a guidance, navigation, and control system that uses sensors, cameras, and algorithms to autonomously land on the lunar surface, avoiding hazards and achieving high accuracy. The patent demonstrates that this design can increase the safety and reliability of the lunar lander, as well as reduce the complexity and cost of the landing system.

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Thermal Control System. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that has a passive and active thermal control system that regulates the temperature of the lander and the payload module, ensuring optimal performance and survival in the harsh lunar environment. The patent demonstrates that this design can increase the mission duration and capabilities of the lunar lander, as well as reduce the power consumption and mass of the thermal system.

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Power System. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that has a power system that uses batteries, fuel cells, and solar panels to provide electrical power for the lander and the payload module, enabling long-duration missions and operations. The patent demonstrates that this design can increase the mission duration and capabilities of the lunar lander, as well as reduce the power consumption and mass of the power system.

-> Lunar Lander with Integrated Landing Legs. This patent covers a design for a lunar lander that has integrated landing legs that can absorb shock and provide stability on the lunar surface. The patent demonstrates that this design can increase the safety and reliability of the lunar lander, as well as reduce the mass and complexity of the landing system.


From just released Form: 10-K (0001844452-24-000036 | 10-K | Intuitive Machines)


Item 1. Business

We are a space infrastructure and services company founded in 2013 that is contributing to the establishment of lunar infrastructure and commerce on the Moon. We believe we have a leading position in the development of lunar space operating in four business lines described further below. We are initially focused on establishing the lunar infrastructure and basis for commerce to inform and sustain human presence off Earth. We believe our business is well positioned for continued growth and expansion:

Right Now: Servicing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) and a worldwide set of commercial payload customers, working to provide access to the lunar surface, cislunar space and data transmission for science, technology, and infrastructure.

Tomorrow: Working to provide a thriving, diverse lunar economy, creating new opportunities and markets to enable on-orbit applications, a permanent presence on the Moon, and expand the commercial space exploration marketplace.

We are currently working to provide access to the lunar surface and collect and transmit cislunar data for science, technology, and infrastructure. We are one of a select few companies servicing NASA and a worldwide set of commercial payload customers. We believe we have a strong position with a first mover advantage, as evidenced by three Commercial Lunar Payload Services (“CLPS”) awards to date as of December 31, 2023. On February 22, 2024, Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander became the first U.S. vehicle to softly land on the lunar surface since 1972 and landed the vehicle further south than any vehicle in the world has ever soft-landed on the Moon. Our Nova-C lander on the IM-1 mission carried approximately 100 kilograms of payloads and shuttled numerous experiments and technology demonstrations at the lunar surface near the South Pole. Our goal is to follow the successful IM-1 mission with IM-2, which will continue to execute experiments and technology demonstrations at the Shackleton connecting ridge at the lunar South Pole, and IM-3, our third CLPS award, which will land at Reiner Gamma. These missions, along with additional expeditions, are in partnership with NASA, Nokia Corporation, Columbia Sportswear Company, Aegis Aerospace, Inc. and other commercial players. Intuitive Machines offers its customers the flexibility needed to pioneer a thriving, diverse lunar economy and to enable a permanent presence on the Moon.

Additionally, the U.S. Space Forces’ (the “Space Force”) requirement to ensure freedom of action in space is driving their initial focus on cislunar Space Domain Awareness sensors and xGEO Position Navigation and Timing solutions as a result of the ongoing efforts by the United States and the People’s Republic of China (“China”) to return to the lunar surface in a sustainable manner. We believe the U.S. Department of Defense funding for cislunar activities will drive the Space Force to rely on purchasing cislunar commercial services for the next five plus years, as opposed to acquiring and operating new government systems. This funding provides an opportunity for companies such as Intuitive Machines to sell Space Domain Awareness, Position Navigation and Timing, and secure communications to the Space Force, especially given that the commercial sector will be the driving force in providing cislunar products and services due to the capital that is flowing to new space entrants. This, along with other domestic and foreign allied policies, enhances our belief in the growing space economy and why we are well-positioned.


Our Industry

We believe the commercial lunar economy is poised for growth given a number of key factors, including reduced barriers to entry in space, rising geopolitical tensions, and growing demand and program funding from the U.S. government.

Reduced Barriers to Entry: The barriers to entry of the lunar economy have diminished significantly over the past decade. In particular, the costs of launch and lunar exploration have decreased meaningfully since the Apollo missions of the 1960s and early 1970s. Further, public-private partnerships, such as NASA’s commercial lunar payload contract program, are helping private companies pursue innovation and make lunar exploration more affordable than in past decades.

Rising Geopolitical Tensions: Additionally, there is geopolitical and policy alignment with the return to the Moon. As described in the 2022 Defense Intelligence Agency report titled Challenges to Security in Space, “China and Russia value superiority in space. As a result, we expect them to seek ways to strengthen their space and counterspace programs and determine ways to better integrate them into their respective militaries.” Specifically, the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program is already well underway. In 2020, Chang’e 5 successfully returned samples from the Moon. Over the next five years, three more Chang’e 5 missions are planned with the aim of generating products using lunar materials, a practice called in-situ resource utilization. The success of countries, such as, China, India and Japan, highlights the values placed on superiority in space by other countries, has ignited a 21st-century space race that is well underway.

Market Push: As a result of the aforementioned factors, government funding for lunar missions has significantly grown as evidenced by the NASA Artemis program (the “Artemis” program). The Artemis program is a bipartisan initiative to return humans to the Moon and eventually achieve human exploration of Mars. Unlike the Apollo program, the Artemis program is relying heavily upon partnership with the private sector in order to accomplish its goals in a more cost-effective manner. Total NASA spending on the Artemis program is expected to reach $93 billion by FY 2025, according to the NASA Office of Inspector General Office of Audits. The program aims to conduct its first human landing in FY 2026 and achieve a sustainable human presence on the Moon with a powered habitable base camp by the late 2020s. The $2.6 billion CLPS program that we lead was created to deliver scientific instruments to the Moon to gather data in preparation for the human landing and eventually to deliver support equipment for human presence. Beyond Artemis and CLPS, the Lunar Gateway and Tipping Point contracts are incremental evidence of the significant traction in the lunar market. Lunar Gateway is a series of three elements that will create a space station in lunar orbit scheduled to launch in 2024. Tipping Point is a NASA program that seeks industry-developed space technologies that can foster the development of commercial space capabilities and benefit future NASA missions.


Our Opportunity

We believe we are well-positioned to help ignite the cislunar economy by reducing cost of access while providing reliable missions on a defined schedule. We intend to accomplish this goal by integrating proven commercial technologies where they exist and solving the hardest problems in a vertically integrated manner. We believe we have already demonstrated success in this approach with our propulsion and Guidance, Navigation and Control (“GN&C”) systems, both of which were designed and are produced in-house. We believe that space is the next economic frontier and the increased demand from governments, intelligence agencies, commercial industries, and private individuals has created multiple avenues for long-term growth. We are strongly positioned to exploit this growing market and become a leader with our proprietary technologies and growing backlog of customers.

The end markets that we address includes annual spending associated with the 2024 President’s Budget of approximately $24.9 billion for NASA’s Space Exploration and $40.9 billion for U.S. National Security Space (which includes the Space Force and the Missile Defense Agency). In addition, Commercial Satellite Services spending reached approximately $113 billion during FY 2022, according to the 2023 State of the Satellite Industry Report provided by the Satellite Industry Association. Within these markets, our Lunar Services and Earth Orbital Services business units are the primary addressable markets and we believe represents a growing opportunity over the next decade.

Lunar Services: We expect crewed missions, infrastructure, transportation, robotics, communication, and science and technology as significant market drivers. Through our Lunar Access Services and Lunar Data Services business units, we believe we are well positioned to be able to grow our business through our lunar landers and market leading capabilities.

Orbital Services: We believe there are broad opportunities within the orbital services market segment, including life extension, robotics, salvage, Space Situational Awareness (SSA), de-orbiting, and relocation. Our Orbital Services business unit is being built to promote ancillary services, including satellite servicing and refueling, space station servicing, satellite repositioning, and orbital debris removal. We believe that deploying and supporting satellites in certain unique Earth orbits will allow us to optimize this market.


Our Business Units, Products and Services

We are a premier provider and supplier of space products and services that we believe will enable sustained robotic and human exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond. Our core technologies underpin our capabilities in four business units: Lunar Access Services, Orbital Services, Lunar Data Services and Space Products and Infrastructure.

We expect to achieve leading time to market across these business lines driven by our short design to manufacture process, enabled through vertical integration and rapid iterative testing. This has been demonstrated with our GN&C and propulsion systems, which passed multiple validation tests in preparation for our first lunar mission as well as our operational lunar data network. These technologies can be leveraged to capture orbital services and we expect successful lunar landings will demonstrate our capability as an agile space company, supporting our continued expansion into Space Products and Infrastructure.


Lunar Access Services

We intend to utilize our proprietarily developed lunar lander vehicles to service CLPS contracts to fly NASA scientific equipment and commercial payloads to the lunar surface and support experiments.

Our Nova-C lander that flew on the IM-1 mission in February 2024 was the first U.S. vehicle to softly land on the lunar surface since 1972 and was the first object in human history to land at the South Pole. Powered by our proprietary engine, and replete with innovative avionics for advanced guidance, navigation and control, the Nova-C lander carried approximately 100 kilograms of payloads, and shuttled numerous technology demonstrations to the lunar surface. Our goal is for the IM-1 mission to be followed up by IM-2, which will continue to execute experiments and technology demonstrations, including deployment of the Moon’s first drill to test for water ice while also deploying our micro-Nova “hopper”, a drone to test the Nokia LTE network in space. The workhorse of the Nova-C lander is the VR900 LOX/Methane engine, which is a fully additively manufactured (3D printed) rocket engine, which we designed and manufacture in-house. Building off the solid framework of our Nova-C lander systems and structures, we have designed a scalable path for the development and construction of additional vehicles. The Nova-D lander intends to incorporate technologies developed for the Nova-C, and will have a projected payload capacity of 500-2500 kilograms. The Nova-D has completed System Definition Review (SDR). Our largest lander, the Nova-M, will rely on its two VR3500 engines to carry approximately 5,000-7,500 kilograms of payload to the lunar surface. Nova-M is a future development effort. These options are designed to afford flexibility for our customers as we pioneer a thriving, diverse lunar economy and enable a permanent presence on the Moon. Importantly, they are also all based on the same LOX/Methane engine, which is designed and manufactured in-house. We also offer lunar surface mobility through the lunar rocket-fueled drone, µNova. The µNova is a small robotic, deployable spacecraft that is designed to provide a novel type of mobility to reach extreme lunar environments, such as pits and craters. Acting as a payload on a lander like the Nova-C, µNova deploys once on the lunar surface and uses its own propulsion system to autonomously fly, or “hop,” between locations of interest. Capable of traveling up to 25 kilometers from its host lander with a payload of 5 kilograms, µNova enables a number of mission types, including regional surveys, prospecting of multiple dispersed sites, and accessing hard-to-reach locations like permanently shadowed regions, lunar pits, and craters. The technology is also designed to be scalable to provide similar access for larger payloads over a longer distance. The first µNova is intended to fly to the Moon on IM-2 and perform a demonstration mission at the lunar South Pole for the NASA Tipping Point program. As of December 31, 2023, the contracted value of our Lunar Access Services business unit includes $292.4 million of NASA CLPS and Tipping Point contracts, $25.1 million of commercial payloads, and $17.5 million of rideshares contracted on IM-1, IM-2, and IM-3. In addition, as of December 31, 2023, we have $1.6 million in commercial sponsorships and content sales, which provides us with another source of revenue outside of our core operations. Our three lunar missions are contracted to fly on SpaceX’s Falcon 9. Looking beyond our IM-3 mission, our contracted value for future missions is $28.9 million and includes commercial landed and rideshare payloads. This mission profile primes the market to expect an annual cadence of lunar access missions so customers can begin to prepare their payloads and business cases now for future missions. Revenue streams from lunar access are expected to include µNova, lunar surface rover services, fixed lunar surface services, lunar orbit delivery services, rideshare delivery services to lunar orbit, and content sales and marketing sponsorships.


Orbital Services

We will be operating missions and are currently developing technologies that are designed to enable services including satellite delivery and rideshare, satellite servicing and refueling, space station servicing, satellite repositioning, and orbital debris removal. Our Orbital Services business is designed to mainly support satellites and stations in Earth and lunar orbits. 

Our Orbital Services consists of leveraging our technologies and government funds to establish a foothold in capturing the growing orbital services market. The technologies we are working to leverage include mechanism and robotics capabilities, propulsion, Nova-C optical navigation, rendezvous and proximity operations, and satellite capture.

We have made significant progress to date in orbital services. Most recently in 2023, we were awarded as the prime contractor by NASA on the OMES III contract with a value of up to $720.0 million, where we will lead the NASA Landsat Servicing mission. Additionally, we were also awarded the Joint Energy Technology Supplying On-Orbit Nuclear Power contract (“JETSON”), that further expands our relationship with NASA and emphasizes our capabilities in key technology focus areas. We are also pursuing work with National Security Space in order to leverage domain expertise for demonstrations of orbital servicing, debris removal, rideshares, and Space Domain Awareness.


Lunar Data Services

We believe that our Lunar Data Services offering is made up of a validated and complete lunar communications solution. Our Lunar Data Network (“LDN”) consists of our Nova Control Lunar Operations Center, our existing global collection of dishes called the Lunar Telemetry, Tracking and Communications Network (“LTN”), and a planned Cislunar Relay Constellation (Khon Satellites comprising our Khonstellation) to be deployed on future missions. We intend to leverage our strategically positioned ground stations across Earth to offer continuous lunar coverage, facilitating secure lunar communications, navigation, and imagery. Providing Lunar Data Services is designed to allow us to provide lunar network services to NASA, the U.S. Space Force and commercial clients, which we believe will be an increasingly important priority given China’s recent declaration that they intend to build their own lunar satellite network. We believe that we are one of the few companies capable of providing a commercial lunar communication network as an alternative to NASA’s aging and overtasked Deep Space Network (DSN) assets, which we believe will allow connectivity with the far side of the Moon and support robotic and human missions to the South Pole of the Moon.

Our network is secured by layered levels of protection including advanced architecture, Crowdstrike endpoint and antivirus, and Splunk advanced Security Information & Event Management (“SIEM”) control. Our Nova Control Lunar Operations Center is a world-class control center located at our headquarters in Houston, Texas. Built from the ground up by our highly experienced team, Nova Control enables collaboration, innovation and seamless operations, in this 24-hour facility that was designed to provide tracking, telemetry and communications support for cislunar space and the surface of the Moon. 

Our lunar network can provide line of sight communication and will provide lunar South Pole and far-side coverage, lunar positioning services (GPS for the Moon), data relay, and data storage/caching. We continue to bid for contracts including our recent submission to NASA solicitation for Near Space Network Services, a ten-year multi-award contract for communication services direct to / from earth and data relay and navigation services in and around the vicinity of the moon.


Space Products and Infrastructure

This business unit includes propulsion systems, navigation systems, engineering services contracts, lunar mobility vehicles (rovers and drones), power infrastructure (Fission Surface Power), and human habitation systems.

With extensive manufacturing capabilities, an in-house composites shop, and robust machine shop, we are able to find solutions for the prototyping or production challenges our customers face. Our manufacturing facility currently houses two EOS M290 manufacturing machines capable of creating manufactured parts in several characterized materials, including Inconel (IN625) and Titanium (Ti64). Our facility also houses the IM 3D design studio and post processing facilities that enhance development of in-house, manufactured parts. With these capabilities, we are positioning ourselves to rapidly manufacture on-demand prototypes, development parts, flight units and spares with a focus on producing small series and high-quality serial productions of metal manufactured components.

We also have rich experience and unique capabilities with engines, ignitors, controllers, encoders, gimbals, and diverse test facilities that allow us to rapidly develop propulsion systems. We successfully test-fired our VR3500 Moon lander engine for over 600 seconds, breaking the continuous test duration record on Marshall Space Flight Center’s Test Stand 115 - within four months from contract award. Our LOX/Methane engines are unique for inspace propulsion, in that they have demonstrated safety in handling and testing here on the ground, as well as reliable performance in space, and will enable our vehicles to fly more direct trajectories to the Moon. This is important because higher performance allows us to transit the Van Allen belt once compared to lower thrust systems which require several transits, which greatly reduces the risk of damage to our vehicle avionics due to high energy particles (radiation). The workhorse of our engine fleet is the 900lbf thrust class VR900. This engine has undergone hundreds of hours of testing and design, and successfully powered our Nova-C lander to the lunar surface on IM-1 in February 2024. We also have engineered the VR3500 Engine. The VR3500 development and testing was performed on contract for Boeing’s Human Landing System (HLS) NextSTEP-2 in support of NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the lunar surface. Our team designed, developed, built, and tested the engine within four months of contract award. This is an example of how our team combines innovation and experience to rapidly deliver results.

Our broad experience in automated systems includes avionics, communications, navigation, guidance and control systems, rendezvous and proximity operations, synthetic perception technology and human-machine interfaces. Specifically, our team brings extensive experience from NASA’s Morpheus and ALHAT (Autonomous Landing and Hazard Avoidance Technology) projects and the efforts of the Precision Landing and Hazard Avoidance (PLHA) community. We helped validate the Natural Feature Tracking (NFT) system for the OSIRIS-REx mission, which enabled precision landing on the asteroid Bennu. We have developed a PLHA system with Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN) using optical and laser measurements for precise and safe landing on a celestial body. We continue to mature our PLHA technology with the support of a nationwide academic network for incorporation into our Nova-C missions to the lunar surface in 2024 under the IM-1 missions.

We employ some of the industry’s most advanced software tools and processes to rapidly evolve and meet the complex and dynamic demands of our customers, and to build robust software solutions to ensure mission success. Concepts such as Agile software development, DevOps, and Digital Twins allows us to efficiently adapt our software to what is needed. From Low Earth Orbit to the lunar surface, we are capable of delivering complete mission solutions.

We have recently submitted a proposal to NASA to prime the Electrical Systems Engineering Support IV contract (“ESES”) that will expand our capabilities in this business unit.


Our Customers and Partners

We are an integral partner to our customers and partners. We execute on our commitments and develop solutions for our customers’ toughest challenges.

Our customers include, but are not limited to:


U.S. Government

 • NASA. We are partnered with NASA and service NASA through three missions to date under their CLPS contract program. We work to provide NASA with access to the lunar surface as well as cislunar data for science, technology, and infrastructure. The IM-2 mission is also contracted by NASA and will be the first spacecraft to drill for lunar ice. The mission will also be a part of NASA’s Tipping Point with the µNova Hopper.

 • U.S. Department of Defense. In 2023, we won our first significant award with the U.S. Department of Defense (“U.S. DoD”) Air Force Research Laboratory, a $9.5 million JETSON contract. 



Our domestic customers for our first 3 missions include customers such as Columbia Sportswear Company, Nokia Corporation, Aegis Aerospace, Inc., and AstroForge.



Our international customers include international space agencies including our largest international customer, a contract for $16.8 million to provide lunar rover services.


Our Partners

We also have partners in the industry including:

 • KBR. KBR, Inc. (“KBR”) is a U.S.-based science, technology and engineering firm. In the ordinary course of business, we regularly provide engineering services to KBR. KBR also owns a 10% interest in Space Network Solutions (“SNS”), one of our operating subsidiaries. The SNS joint venture won the OMES III contract on April 18, 2023 to conduct servicing of NASA’s LandSat-7. In May 2023, Science Applications International Corp., which previously held the OMES II contract, filed a bid to protest the grant of the contract to SNS. The U.S Government Accountability Office affirmed NASA’s decision on the OMES III contract in August 2023.

 • X-energy. X-energy is a nuclear reactor and fuel design engineering company, developing Generation IV high-temperature gas cooled nuclear reactors and TRISO-X fuel to power them. We are partnered with them in a joint venture in the pursuit of nuclear space propulsion and surface power systems in support of future exploration goals, and has received one of three awards from NASA to design a 40kW fission surface power system for the lunar surface. We and X-energy are currently executing the fission surface power design contract through a joint venture called IX, LLC. Dr. Kamal Ghaffarian, our co-founder and chairman of our Board, is a co-founder and current member of management of X-energy.

 • Jacobs. Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. (“Jacobs”) is a U.S.-based technical, engineering and science firm that provides services for a broad range of clients globally including companies, organizations, and government agencies. We are partnered with Jacobs under a teaming agreement and subcontract for NASA’s JSC Engineering, Technology, and Science program (“JETS Program”).

 • Boeing Airplane & Transport Corporation. Boeing Airplane & Transport Corporation (“Boeing”) is a U.S. -based global aerospace company that develops, manufactures, and services commercial airplanes, defense products, and space systems. In 2023, we bid as a prime and partnered with Boeing on NASA’s Lunar Terrain service bid to develop NASA’s next generation lunar terrain vehicle for exploration and development on the Moon.

 • Northrop Grumman Corporation. Northrop is a U.S.-based global aerospace and defense technology company. We are teaming up with Northrop and several other leading companies to design a Lunar Terrain Vehicle (“LTV”) to transport NASA’s Artemis astronauts around the lunar surface. We will build our capability developed through NASA’s CLPS initiative to meet NASA and commercial demand for larger lunar surface payload delivery. Our Nova-D spacecraft utilizes four liquid methane/oxygen engines from the mature Nova-C program for precision landing on the Moon.

 • Maxar Intelligence - Maxar Intelligence, is a provider of secure, precise, geospatial intelligence. We are teaming with Maxar on various Space Products & Infrastructure contracts, including as a subcontractor under the OMES III contract recently awarded to Space Network Solutions, LLC joint venture and the fission surface power contract executed by IX, LLC joint venture.


Our Competitive Position

We believe we are well positioned to become a leading player in a fast growing market. Our competitive strengths include:

• First Mover Advantage: We are a first mover in a new category with an untapped addressable market according to Northern Sky Research’s (“NSR”) 2022 Moon Markets and Earth Orbital Services Market Analysis reports. We are a ten year technology and space company and is in the leading position in NASA’s return to the Moon with approximately $79.5 million in 2023 fiscal year revenues. We believe we are also a first mover in lunar transport and communications systems. We also believe that we have an established, highly defensible, and scalable technology position providing lunar transport, landing, and data relay services.

 • Contracting TAM Well Beyond NASA: The accessible total addressable market for us is approximately $120.0 billion over the next decade according to NSR. Our total addressable market includes the U.S. DoD and Space Force spending, along with spending by the U.S. intelligence community, which have prioritized the Moon via strong bipartisan support, especially given recent geopolitical developments and the race to space from Russia and China. Our total addressable market is underpinned by large end markets, including space exploration, national security space, and commercial satellite services.

 • Differentiated Technology Offering: We have innovated key technology and lunar features and capabilities, including: LOX and Methane Propulsion, Optical NAV System, Lunar Communications, RE-Entry and Landing, RPO and Capture and Extreme Surface Mobility.

 • High Quality Business Model: We have significant intellectual property assets and high return on invested capital at scale with a durable growth trajectory and margin expansion in a non-cyclical sector. We are growing from $8 million in revenue in 2018 to $79.5 million in revenue in 2023, and with approximately $268.6 million in contracted backlog as of December 31, 2023, with the expectation and belief that we will continue to secure sizeable near-term awards in the near future. Our revenue is expected to transition from government contracts to commercial services sales through successful missions showcasing capabilities as the cislunar economy develops and as we mature as a company.

 • World-class Management Team: Our management team possesses a valuable combination of experience and vision. In addition to their technical knowledge, our team has extensive experience operating and leading companies and a strong track-record of building market making businesses.


Our Growth Strategy

We are pursuing the following growth strategies:

Continuing to build on first mover advantage in lunar transport: We are a company of firsts. Our first mission was IM-1, and became the first commercial lander on the Moon, the first ever mission to the South Pole of the Moon, and the first U.S. lander on the Moon since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. Our second mission for IM-2 is also being designed to achieve a multitude of firsts: first to drill for water ice on the Moon, first to develop and operate a lunar hopper in history, and first to deploy a data relay satellite in lunar orbit. Some of our other firsts from missions and accomplishments include: first to utilize a cryogenic propulsion system for deep space missions, first to work with a commercial partner to deliver lunar payloads, first to establish a commercial lunar and deep space communications network, and first to partner with JSC Astro-Materials Curations Office to certify lunar material. We also intend to build on our first mover advantage gained through these accomplishments and leverage them into positions on new contracts in the future.

Enhancing capabilities and pursuing opportunities in adjacent lunar markets: We intend to scale and expand our existing capabilities in order to provide a complete suite of lunar economy services. This offering is designed to include products and services critical to Commercial Landers, Lunar Data Services, Crewed Lunar Missions, Lunar Transportation Services, Lunar Terrain Vehicle Services, Lunar Power Services, and Lunar Habitats.

Pursuing orbital services opportunities: We intend to leverage our technologies and government funds to establish a foothold in the orbital services market. Some of our key technologies, such as robotics, Nova-C optical navigation and Rendezvous Proximity Operations and Capture (“RPOC”), and satellite capture, have enabled key progress towards this aim to date. This progress includes rideshare contracts and two licensed NASA active debris removal patents. 

Leveraging capabilities in the lunar and satellite services market: We plan to leverage government contract successes such as the OMES III award to build a commercial customer base and develop the industry partnerships required for our next phase of growth. Leveraging these government contracts as well as our differentiated capabilities will allow us to establish a foothold in the emerging satellite servicing market.


Our Competition

Competition in our addressable market is mainly divided between incumbents, such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin who pursue larger, more complex contracts such as manned lunar missions, and next generation players, including our competitors on the CLPS contract such as Astrobotic, Draper Laboratories, and Firefly Aerospace.


Our Operations

Sales: Our sales organization operates directly and via our extensive customer and partner network, which spans across North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. Our partner network consists of our rideshare delivery providers, lunar surface mobility providers, payload providers, communication satellite provider, and ground segment providers. The main responsibilities for our sales organization include ensuring contract renewals, maintaining relationships and expanding business with existing customers and partners, and acquiring new customers. We have deep expertise in capture efforts with the government customers, and have established processes to succeed with such customers. We leverage extensive existing relationships as well as our partner network and direct sales efforts to continue to win and grow business with commercial customers. We work closely with our customers and partners to enable their success. Deeper adoption from our customers comes in many forms, including delivery of payloads to lunar orbit and the lunar surface, data and data relay services for users in the lunar vicinity, orbital services, lunar surface infrastructure, and space products and services.

Research and Development: Our research and development (“R&D”) team is integrated across our engineering organization to leverage the best engineers within each discipline and prevent stovepipes within our technology, yielding fully integrated systems that reduce time to market. Our R&D scope includes company rollover, acquisition, optimizing capital structure, and general corporate purposes. Our R&D team is also responsible for developing and innovating our proprietary technology platform.

We continue to invest in R&D, particularly as it relates to “survive the night” and our larger lander design to make our platform more accessible to a wider range of customers, as well as innovating our space technology to capture various types of data efficiently.

Marketing: Our marketing team utilizes a multi-channel approach to develop and increase our brand awareness, position and communicate the value of our differentiated offering, and develop engaging outbound demand-generation campaigns. The team drives our overall market positioning and messaging across our key audiences and vertical markets, as well as provides strategic go-to-market assessments of use cases that emerge from new product capabilities and the market landscape. Our communications team works with targeted industry influencers and media outlets to drive interest through media channels, including blogs, social media, and video. This approach is important for our strategy to capture the entire market opportunity encompassing not only NASA and U.S. DoD, but also commercial aerospace and non-traditional customer segments engaged in partnership and content activity, who value brand activation from these engagements.


Supply Chain

Our ability to manufacture and operate our spacecraft is dependent upon sufficient availability of raw materials and supplied components including avionics, flight computers, radios, electrical power systems and fuel tanks. We obtain raw materials and components from suppliers that we believe to be reputable and reliable. We have established and follow internal quality control processes to source suppliers, considering quality, cost, delivery and lead-time. We instill responsibility for quality at the lead level to ensure our suppliers and internally built hardware meet the required quality standards. While we largely source raw materials and components from multiple sources, in some cases raw materials and components are sourced from a limited number of suppliers. In these situations, as we endeavor to diversify our supply chain, we manage this risk through using material requirements planning, including material forecasting and planning, safety stock, and bulk and advance buying with focused efforts on long-lead items. 


Manufacturing, Assembly and Operations

We have an integrated manufacturing facility in Houston, TX which includes our corporate headquarters and our Lunar Production and Operations Center (“LPOC”) at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport which was completed in late 2023. The LPOC serves as a production and testing facility of lunar lander components and other aerospace related operations and features tiered storage, an advanced loading dock, and a production area with 45-foot ceilings and crane capable of handling all Nova Lunar Lander designs. The manufacturing capability supports R&D, rapid prototyping and flight level hardware in an integrated and disciplined manner applying the correct level of rigor to the appropriate process. We leverage a strong culture of personal accountability to ensure efficiency and world class results of operations within our operations group. We are ISO 9001:2015 and AS9100D certified and adhere to the appropriate quality and process controls on a continuous basis. See “Item 2 Properties” for further discussion of our facilities.


Human Capital

As of December 31, 2023, we had 382 employees throughout our operations. We value technical expertise, original thinking, adaptability, and a willingness to collaborate with our excellent team. While our original workforce is rooted in aerospace, we welcome new perspectives and technology expertise as we grow. Intuitive Machines’ People Strategy strives to keep pace with our organization’s pioneering spirit, and specialized technologies, products and talent. Execution belongs to all of leadership, as we shape IM for future growth while retaining our culture. Our People Strategy is supported by competitive compensation and benefits and we have recently revamped our total rewards programs. We further focus efforts on championing inclusion and diversity, so that all IM employees can bring their authentic selves to work. In addition, we are proud supporters of our veterans and active-duty employees. 


Intellectual Property

The protection of our technology and intellectual property is an important aspect of our business. We rely upon a combination of trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights, license agreements, confidentiality procedures, contractual commitments and other legal rights to establish and protect our intellectual property. We enter into confidentiality agreements and invention or work product assignment agreements with our employees and consultants to control access to, and clarify ownership of, our proprietary information. We continually review and update our intellectual property portfolio to help ensure that we have adequate protections and rights. 


Government and Environmental Regulations


Government Regulations 

Compliance with various governmental regulations has an impact on our business, including our capital expenditures, earnings and competitive position, which can be material. We incur or will incur costs to monitor and take actions to comply with governmental regulations that are or will be applicable to our business, which include, among others, federal securities laws and regulations, applicable stock exchange requirements, export and import control, economic sanctions and trade embargo laws and restrictions and regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation, FAA, FCC and other government agencies in the United States.

We contract with U.S. government agencies and entities, principally NASA, which requires that we comply with various laws and regulations relating to the formation, administration and performance of contracts. U.S. government contracts are generally subject to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (the “FAR”), which sets forth policies, procedures and requirements for the acquisition of goods and services by the U.S. government, other agency-specific regulations that implement or supplement the FAR and other applicable laws and regulations. These regulations impose a broad range of requirements, many of which are unique to government contracting, including various procurement, import and export, security, contract pricing and cost, contract termination and adjustment and audit requirements. Depending on the contract, these laws and regulations require, among other things:

 • certification and disclosure of all cost and pricing data in connection with certain contract negotiations;

 • defining allowable and unallowable costs and otherwise govern our right to reimbursement under various cost-type U.S. government contracts;

 • compliance with Cost Accounting Standards for U.S. government contracts (“CAS”);

 • reviews by the Defense Contract Audit Agency (“DCAA”), Defense Contract Management Agency (“DCMA”) and other regulatory agencies for compliance with a contractor’s business systems;

 • restricting the use and dissemination of and require the protection of unclassified contract-related information and information classified for national security purposes and the export of certain products and technical data; and

 • prohibiting competing for work if an actual or potential organizational conflict of interest, as defined by these laws and regulations, related to such work exists and/or cannot be appropriately mitigated, neutralized or avoided.

We perform work under cost-reimbursable contracts with NASA and other U.S. governmental agencies. If the U.S. government concludes costs charged to a contract are not reimbursable under the terms of the contract or applicable procurement regulations, these costs are disallowed or, if already reimbursed, we may be required to refund the reimbursed amounts to the customer. Such conditions may also include interest and other financial penalties. If performance issues arise under any of our government contracts, the customer retains the right to pursue remedies, which could include termination under any affected contract. Generally, our customers have the contractual right to terminate or reduce the amount of work under our contracts at any time.

Further, our business is subject to, and we must comply with, stringent U.S. import and export control laws, including the International Trade in Arms Regulations administered by the U.S. Department of State (“ITAR”) and the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”). See “Risk Factors - Risks Relating to Our Business and Industry” for a discussion of material risks to us, including, to the extent material, to our competitive position, relating to governmental regulations, and see “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operation” together with our consolidated financial statements, including the related notes included therein, for a discussion of material information relevant to an assessment of our financial condition and results of operations, including, to the extent material, the effects that compliance with governmental regulations may have upon our capital expenditures and earnings.

Further, our business is subject to, and we must comply with, stringent U.S. import and export control laws, including the International Trade in Arms Regulations administered by the U.S. Department of State (“ITAR”) and the Export Administration Regulations (“EAR”). See “Risk Factors - Risks Relating to Our Business and Industry” for a discussion of material risks to us, including, to the extent material, to our competitive position, relating to governmental regulations, and see “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operation” together with our consolidated financial statements, including the related notes included therein, for a discussion of material information relevant to an assessment of our financial condition and results of operations, including, to the extent material, the effects that compliance with governmental regulations may have upon our capital expenditures and earnings.


Environmental Regulations

We are subject to various federal, state, provincial, local, and international environmental laws and regulations relating to the operation of our business, including those governing pollution, the handling, storage, disposal and transportation of hazardous substances and the cleanup of contamination should it arise. The imposition of more stringent standards or requirements under environmental laws or regulations or a determination that we are responsible for a release of hazardous substances at our sites could result in significant costs, including cleanup costs, fines, sanctions, and third-party claims. In addition, we could be affected by future regulations imposed in response to concerns over climate change, other aspects of the environment or natural resources. At this time, we do not believe that federal, state, and local laws and regulations relating to the discharge of materials into the environment, or otherwise relating to the protection of the environment, or any existing or pending climate change legislation, regulation, or international treaties or accords are reasonably likely to have a material effect in the foreseeable future on our business. 


Available Information

Our website address is www.intuitivemachines.com. The contents of, or information accessible through, our website are not incorporated by reference herein and are not a part of this Annual Report. We make our filings with the SEC, including our Annual Report on Form 10-K, Quarterly Reports on Form 10-Q, Current Reports on Form 8-K and all amendments to those reports, as well as beneficial ownership filings available free of charge on our website under the “Investors” section as soon as reasonably practicable after we file such reports with, or furnish such reports to, the SEC. 

We may use our website as a distribution channel of material information about us. Financial and other important information regarding the Company is routinely posted on and accessible through the Investors section of our website at www.investors.intuitivemachines.com.

March 23, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Ode to Odie (IM-1): The Silent Voyager

In the quiet expanse where shadow and light dance,

Where lunar dust whispers secrets to a universe so vast,

Odie, the intrepid IM-1 moon lander,

Rests upon our Moon's heartfelt bosom.


Odie, echo of Odysseus of old,

You embarked on a cosmic odyssey,

Guided by algorithms and starlight,

To touch the ancient regolith of our lunar neighbor.


From Earth's embrace, you soared aloft,

A mechanical heart pulsing with much purpose,

Like Odysseus, who sailed the wine-dark sea,

You faced trials and tribulations, unyielding.


Your descent—a ballet of fire and precision,

Thrusters engaging, sensors ablaze,

As you pirouetted through the exosphere,

A dance choreographed by engineers' hands.


And there, on the Moon's southern rim,

Where craters yawn and shadows stretch,

You nestled, Odie, in the cold lunar night,

A lone voyager in a sea of gray,

shining a light on and into the unknown...


Like Odysseus, you encountered sirens—

Not the melodic temptresses of myth,

But the frequency of cosmic background and semi-void's embrace,

As you whispered back to us across the seeming but teeming abyss.


On this particular journey you sampled not the soil, Odie,

Yet your circuits hummed with purpose,

For you bore witness to our fragile and beautiful existence,

To the triumphs and follies of our species.


But behold! A new chapter unfolds—

A lunar base, a stepping stone for humanity,

Shall perchance rise near your resting place, Odie,

And astronauts, travellers,. shall tread near where you are and will stand.


They'll build habitats, forge connections,

Their footprints mingling with digital echoes,

And as they gaze upon Earth, a distant blue gem,

They'll honor your legacy, oh silent sentinel.


Odie, our modern-day Odysseus,

Your journey echoes through the cosmos,

As you rest in lunar solitude, not alone,

But surrounded by dreams and the promise of tomorrow. 🌕🚀

March 15, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

2.28. 2024, 1630 EST Cantor Fitzgerald Andres Sheppard's Fireside Chat w/ Intuitive Machines CEO Steve Altemus Following Successful Lunar Landing - Transcript

Note from Teknosis: Feel free to share this link globally!


Andres (a): Good afternoon, everyone. We're just gonna allow a few seconds here for everyone to dial in and then we'll go ahead and get started. Alright, looks like we're ready to get started. So good afternoon, everyone. And thank you for joining our fireside chat. We have a great conversation schedule for today. We are joined by Steve Altemus. He is the President, co-founder, and CEO of Intuitive Machines. Hi, Steve. Good to see you, good to have you on.

Steve (s): Thanks for having me, Andres. It's great to be on and great to be talking about this momentous occasion we just have experienced. 

a: Yeah, no, I echo your enthusiasm. And so why don't we go ahead and get started. You know, maybe first and foremost, obviously congratulations on what truly was an incredible achievement. I'm sure you and your team is very proud. Can you maybe please talk about what this means for you, what this means for the company, and what this means for the entire space econ.

s: Yeah, great. Hello, everyone. It's been an incredible 13 days where what we've done is we've carried on our shoulders as a company, Intuitive Machines, the responsibility to return the United States to the Moon for the first time in 52 years. And we had to do it in a fixed price environment. We had to do it in the four years or so, the time it takes to get an undergraduate degree, and we were asked and expected to do it on the first shot. We launched on a SpaceX rocket. We went off into space and separated from the launch vehicle and made our way out to the Moon - not without our challenges on the way - and we operated a first-time spacecraft in space and went successfully into orbit, successfully down to the surface and touched down softly and have returned all the scientific and engineering data that NASA was looking for. And our mission draws to a quiet close this afternoon exactly as predicted with 144 hours plus on the surface of the Moon. So it's just an unqualified success. We've received compliments from the President and the Vice President, the NASA administrator and a whole lot of different countries are just celebrating the success of this major milestone. 

a: That's great to hear. And that's a great segue maybe to my next question, which is, how would you characterize the landing itself in terms of execution, the milestones, and the significance? and what is the impact of the fact that the lander may be tilted slightly? and when it landed, what is the impact of that and particularly in respect to, again, to the mission milestones and to the success rate? 

s: Yeah, there has not been one mission in the history of space missions that have gone absolutely perfectly with no issues to resolve. When we came into the mission, the piece that you're talking about is our power descent initiation and then the terminal phase where we touched down softly on the Moon. We ended up having a challenge with our laser range finders and so we had no altitude measurements with precision to land and so we touched down a little bit harder than we had liked and the landing gear did their job, they absorbed that impact but as the engine stayed on we were vertical, and then, you know, we tipped over about 30 degrees based on the landing gear failure that was due to an impact on the surface. But none of the systems were damaged. We figured out the communications and we ended up communicating back to Earth and getting all the telemetry and all the commanding we needed to activate all the payloads and get the customers back to payloads, the data that they were looking for. And in a lot of cases, we gave them more and more information about the future of Artemis program than they were anticipating. We took some of their advanced technologies and moved them out of the laboratory from a Technology Readiness Level [TRL] of about 5 or 6 and we put them into an operational scenario, where they actually helped us in some occasions, and got them to TRL9. These are systems that will be used in the Artemis program. So this idea of a precursor scout mission for the United States, for NASA, to come off with an unqualified success on the first try is just, you know, it's just incredible. And so, you know, there's been a lot of media and back and forth about the lander tipping over and whatever. Well, that's okay, because it works, and it's a robust lander and it's a fantastic design, and I'm just really proud of the team who put it together.

a: Yeah. I know the landing was quite of a nail-biter for those of us that were watching it live alongside you and your team. I'm curious, how would you, how do you think NASA is characterizing the mission in terms of it being a success?

s: Yeah, we heard from the, I'm sorry, the NASA administrator, Senator Nelson. and he said this is an unqualified success where we aced the landing and what an incredible mission. So that comes from the top of the agency, and I've been congratulated from that level all the way down and even the payload scientists are happy with everything they've gotten. So just a fantastic mission for us.

a: That's great to hear. And maybe Steve, maybe just take a quick step back, you know, for those who may be less familiar with the mission and the process, can you maybe remind us, you know, what were some of the key milestones that you set out to accomplish during this mission, you know, in maybe, in addition to the landing itself?

s: Well, you know, we invented and created the first ever in space liquid oxygen/liquid methane propulsion system. We made that completely in-house. We use additive manufacturing or 3D printing, and we could print an engine injector that is our design in five days and get it ready to test in total of 10 days. So we were able to iterate very rapidly and produce a high performing engine that no one else in the world has, a liquid oxygen/liquid methane cryogenic engine that now can serve the solar system. And we proved it out, and that engine flew perfectly firing over 20 minutes full duration, reigniting six times, and the last four times we flew that engine, I'm sorry, fired that engine in space, it was totally autonomous. So the whole pressurization sequence, the whole firing sequence, the main stage, full thrust, throttle down and shut off, all hands off. Just an amazing system. And you didn't hear a lot about it because it went perfectly; what you heard about was the landing gear, that was a piece of structure that snapped, but other than that, it's just perfect. 

a: Yeah, I think that's a great point, right, is a lot of folks are maybe just focusing on the landing itself, but not necessarily on the milestones that you achieved to get there, which were also very significant. And obviously all of the data that you collected and then subsequently transmitted back to Earth. Can you maybe remind us, you know, what were some of the payloads that you were carrying? How many of those were? Who were you carrying them for? Just maybe some examples of what some of those payloads were. 

s: So, and I'll dovetail that with some of the key firsts in space, but we carried six NASA payloads to study the environment. One was for dust and how the plume would impinge on the surface and create the dust cloud. Another one was to study the radio frequency background around the Moon where we were getting noise from the Sun, from exoplanets and from Earth. Another one was a navigation instrument that used radio frequency navigation and then one that used lasers, and then a retroreflector that serves as a navigation beacon once we're on the surface. Other commercial payloads were to take a picture of the Milky Way galaxy from the south pole region of the Moon. Another one was Columbia Sportswear, great partnership, where we tested a thermal insulator, that they're using in their high performance, on the heat shield jackets. There's just a number of those kinds of things that are blending government activity with commercial success. And so I'm really proud of that. For us, there were a number of firsts. We built a Lunar Distance Communication Network around the world that used radio astronomy dishes, eight different dishes from six different countries. And we had to integrate and work together with different countries like the UK, with India, Australia, Japan, South Africa, and pull that off in order to be able to communicate and execute this mission. And then we had to take and fire the engine for the first time in space. We flew a flight control system on a new spacecraft for the first time in space, we did orbit determination and ranging and found ourselves in space from that ground network. So just a lot of things that had to go right, that everything went what we needed. We got a result, even though we learned how to operate this spacecraft, that will increase our success going forward in every subsequent mission - mission two, mission three, our commercial mission, mission four, et cetera; and really just puts us as a pioneer in this industry, creating a new lunar economy, you know, really kicking the doors down on a lunar economy, and by demonstrating, we did this at a price point that was unheard of, and did it on the first try. So it really is something to marvel at. I'm really impressed with the quality of the team for this.

a: Yeah, I think you made a lot of great points there. I think the cost and the fact that it was the first mission, again, maybe that sometimes gets missed by my investors, but it really is an indication of, I think, you and your team and how hard you've all worked to make it happen. I know you alluded to this just now briefly, but maybe if you could expand, is what sort of data have you been compiling and sharing back to Earth? And has that data been affected by the fact that the vehicle landed slightly tilted?

s: Oh, the data coming back to Earth is from the payloads, as expected. Obviously, one of the payloads was supposed to take data on the way down as we were descending, and it had an internal problem that was a NASA payload called SCALPSS and it didn't activate. But since then we've been able to activate it and get some data down and actually share with NASA the data we collected on our plume or engine plume impingement on the surface of the Moon. So they'll be able to reconstruct data from what we sent down to them, plus what we give them additionally to make that experiment a full success. So it's been what we expected. We've gotten great data for our own reconstruction, for our guidance, our navigation, control, propulsion, communications, power, all of these things that will help us analyze the mission and make sure that there's a plan for any improvements, refinements, lessons learned, and feed that back into the program, the lunar program, in a way that we're always improving. That's something I kicked off a couple of days ago was, the data repository, organize all the data we get back, study the mission and all the different features in terms of the systems and the operations, and then suggest improvements on where we can do better, where we can increase reliability. And so all of that then is going in over the next 30 day period to see how's that going to impact, if at all, our second mission and our third mission.

a: And I think maybe just to add to that, you announced earlier today that you now may have the possibility of reigniting Odie in a few weeks. So maybe if you could just talk a little bit more about that and to my understanding, and again, please correct me if I'm wrong, but if you are able to do that, then whatever data you would gather and compile, then it would be in addition [to] which you initially were targeting for this mission. Is that the correct way to think about it?

s: Yeah, we knew when we signed up for taking on this first pioneering mission for the United States, that we were going to only live on the surface of the Moon during sunlight. You know, we're not yet carrying the technologies for warming the batteries and the electronics to stay alive during the cold of night. Just think about a Tesla and how it can't charge itself in the cold winter of Chicago. Well, this is about minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit during the winter or the cold of night on the Moon. So we expected the batteries and the flight computer and electronics to kind of freeze over and not survive. And so we've only said we were going to be alive for 144 hours on the Moon, and we're going to do that. But what we've done is left the vehicle in such a way that when the sun hits the solar arrays, from the, and gets illuminated during the lunar noon in about two or three weeks, we're going to see whether or not Odysseus or Odie, we call it, the lander, springs back to life and sends some data down. And that's all gravy. And boy, NASA would be very interested in understanding how that behaves, you know, because none of the vendors in our supply chain have ever experienced anything like this. So they've never committed to selling us batteries that are good down to minus 280 degrees. That's just not what they certify those batteries for. So this is an interesting data point, not just for NASA, not just for Intuitive Machines, but for the vendors of the systems, the computers and the batteries and the electronics that we flew. They'll want to know how their system performed in this very, very extreme environment.

a: Yeah, no, that's very, very exciting. Maybe to switch gears slightly is, can you maybe at a high level just remind us what are some of your key partnerships, obviously particularly NASA and SpaceX, and how do you plan on continuing to work with them in the future after the landing?

s: Yeah, well, certainly we're going to continue to compete for and win missions within the CLPS program, the Commercial Lunar Payload Service program. What's interesting is CLPS 1 was a $2.6 billion program over 10 years. That ends in 2028. And so the new program has to start putting out, it's called CLPS 2.0, it has to, putting out proposals or requests for proposal for missions that'll fly in 2028. So that means that has to start in 2025. Already there's requirements in that new contract that they're gonna seek demonstrated relevant experience and past performance as one of the criteria is to be in that pool, and we have just done that, and I think ensured ourselves a position in the next follow-on contract for keeping these lunar missions going and feeding forward into the Artemis program. We've also worked with NASA and we put in over 3 billion dollars of contracts into supplying NASA for the Artemis Program communication services using that commercial network we put in place around the world and will include data relay satellites and things to communicate. So we'll land on the Moon via the Eclipse program and commercially do that. Also we're planning, we'll communicate around the Moon and back to Earth using this near space network contract should we win that, so we expect that here in the, I don't know, within the few coming months, I'll say. And then the other one is to build infrastructure for Artemis, and that is to build and deploy and deliver the lunar terrain vehicle, which is about the size of an F-150 pickup truck, to steward astronauts around the surface of the Moon. And so that we are expecting the award announcement at the end of March. So those are a few things of where we're going and the kind of things that are going to continue to go in terms of business with NASA. And certainly we're going to diversify and continue. We're getting calls from international governments and commercial companies, including ESA, the European union in terms of their interest in going to the Moon with us, and we'll cultivate those international relationships as well as commercial partnerships. And then finally, talking with and working with the Space Force and seeing what needs they might have that we can fulfill in transportation or transporting systems out to orbit around the Moon.

a: Yeah, thanks, Steve. I think that's very, very comprehensive and it's a great segue to my next question, which I wanna touch on your OMS contract right now, this is a 719 million dollar contract that you have with NASA. Can you maybe just remind us, you know, what, what that contract is and also more importantly, you know, is this, is the revenue opportunity from this contract, is this connected to the launches at all or is this entirely separate from from the launches?

s: Well, it's a great question. [I will] address that. OMS contract is an omnibus multi-engineering services contract with the Goddard Space Flight Center. And the primary objective is to fly a mission called the On-Orbit Satellite Servicing and Manufacturing mission to finish out that build and [to] test and to fly it and demonstrate the ability to capture a non-cooperative satellite and service it and refuel it, and it's targeting refueling the Landsat 7. And so we won that contract as a prime contractor. It's 719 million dollars over five years. It's up and in operation at a steady burn rate. At this point, it started December 1st, and we're already running on that contract for several months, and we'll continue that way. That was all intended to help us diversify revenue streams as the Artemis program may be moving to the right, as the landings on the Moon are competitive, sometimes that business can be a little bit lumpy. It's very transactional. And so getting a nice base of about $800 million contract to over five years is a good base. And it's relevant to our skills and abilities as a company to be able to do this kind of thing like orbital servicing of satellites and really kind of puts us at a next level of performance. And all of this is driving towards moving Intuitive Machines to a tier one aerospace company eventually.

a: Yeah, I think it's a great point. I think it's important to emphasize that Intuitive Machines, you know, you have essentially four different revenue streams with the lunar axes or the lunar missions really only being one of those four. I think that's something that sometimes can, I think might get missed by investors. You know, staying on the same topic, you're currently bidding on some exciting contract. There's a multi-billion dollar contract for NASA's lunar terrain vehicle. There's also the Nearspace Network Services contract. Can you maybe give us some details at a high level as to what these contracts are and what you think could potentially mean for Intuitive Machines?

s: Yeah, I touched on them just a moment ago, but let me say a little bit more, is the Nearspace Network contract is NASA figuring out how are we going to provide communication services in the future in and around the Moon as this burgeoning cislunar economy starts to take off. Using the Deep Space Network, which is the national assets of the US government, they're oversubscribed bringing down critical science data like the James Webb Space Telescope images and Hubble images and all the Mars data and all the deep space probes and interplanetary probes. There is no room left for the Moon. And so how might NASA conduct the Artemis program? And so they went out with a procurement to say, can we buy this service commercially? Well, I'll tell you something, because we're flying to the Moon, we bid on that and said, look, we're [the] ones that are actually putting the infrastructure in place to fly to the Moon ourselves. And this mission not only demonstrated we could land successfully on the Moon, but that we could operate a spacecraft all the way out to the Moon and on the surface using our own network. And we showed, which is even more important, that we could dovetail with the Deep Space Network and work seamlessly, handoff between our dishes and the Deep Space Network big dishes and have a continuity of data service that NASA would ideally like to have. So this represents a significant milestone, if, should we be awarded this, and we have the experience to do this job for them. And that's 10 years at $2.2 billion contract should we win that to provide that service. So that's what that one's about and it's very relevant and adjacent to the lunar access business line. The other one I talked about is like a space products and infrastructure business line where we build space systems. You know, we just built a world-class lunar lander. And we have other spacecraft going on mission two and three. So we have a production line of building spacecraft. Well, a spacecraft to us can be a mobility device like a lunar terrain vehicle, a big moon buggy for astronauts, or it could be a lunar lander or it could be a satellite. And so the skills and the production capability we have, we bid on this contract to supply this lunar terrain vehicle to NASA as a service. So we would deliver it to the surface of the Moon using a cargo lander that we develop and we would deliver it and operate it and commercialize it until astronauts arrive. And NASA would buy that as a service when astronauts were there. If not, astronauts are not there, we're selling mobility services and science payload and research payload and engineering payloads to move around the surface of the Moon. And so we're very excited about that one too, and we expect that award to come out here in the second quarter.

a: And those are some sizable contract opportunities, and the fact that you've landed on the Moon probably puts you in a good position to hopefully get those contracts awarded. So I guess we'll have to wait and see, but very, very exciting. Steve, I want to come back maybe to the lunar axis and to the launches. Can you remind us, you know, what's next? When and how are the next mission, what would that mission attempt to do? And then you also have a third mission that I think you've talked about in the past as well. So maybe just remind us when you're targeting these missions and how they might be different from this first mission.

s: Yeah, the first mission we did here was in the south pole region. We went further south [than] in the history of mankind. So we landed within 10 degrees of the pole. So this is like landing on Antarctica, which is just amazing in itself. On the second mission, we're going to Shackleton Ridge, which is much, much closer to the pole, and we're going to drill for water ice, and we're going to hop into a permanently shadowed crater and measure the constituents on what's on the bottom of that crater that's never seen sunlight in its history. Is there any water ice there? and then we're gonna test how does 4G LTE work on the surface of the Moon so we can get longer range cellular communication between mobility devices and our lander. So we have a rover doing that and we have this micronova or hopper [µNova Hopper] doing that. It's a drone that hops about 25 kilometers away from the lander; we're doing that in partnership with Nokia and The Drill in partnership with NASA's Space Technology Group, and so we built and designed the Hopper ourselves, and the Space Technology Group paid us for that. Very exciting mission. We expect based on the schedule of all the other competitors, Intuitive Machines is yet next again. So we will be the next first mission to the South Pole coming later this year. And that's depending on the engineering changes that might have to roll into that vehicle, you know, radios, cameras, things like that that we might want to think about. We might say, it's not important to go by the end of this year. It's important to go when it's ready, to make sure it's correct. And as you can see by the results of this mission, the most important thing is not when you go, it's that you go and you succeed. 

a: Yeah, I think that's a great, great point. And then in terms of the payloads that you'll be carrying for that second mission, where do those stand? Are you still working to secure those payloads or have those been essentially filled by now?

s: Yeah, they're all completely sold and they're all here in the factory. The Drill is integrated onto a panel. The Hopper just has a vibration test to do yet. It's fully functional and assembled. The 4G LTE hardware is in the laboratory being tested with Nokia. So that's full. We, the, pardon me, the third mission is being built also, and we have a lot of components for the lander itself being in the laboratories or the shops being handcrafted. That will go a few months after the second mission. And we don't yet have all the payloads in-house for that, but we have some of those. But NASA's trying to deliver those here in the next few months. And so that'll come together quickly. But again, that mission is sold out. And so now we're cultivating payloads for our first completely commercial mission. And we have several of those payloads that are under contract that we will fly on IMC-1, which is commercial mission one. And I haven't set a date for that, because what we're doing is we're aggregating and manifesting a set of payloads before we say, okay, IMC-1 is full enough to put and cement on the manifest on a certain calendar day.

a: I see. Well, that's great to hear that the payloads for the second and third mission have already been filled. I think, again, that's an important point to touch on and for investors to be aware of. And that's, again, very, very exciting. We touched on this and it might be obvious to yourself and to perhaps me now having covered you for a little bit, but can you maybe remind us why is the South Pole of the Moon so significant? Why is that such a differentiator than landing elsewhere on the Moon? You touched on the drilling and the potential to find some water there. I'm just wondering if maybe you can expand on that. What are some of the use cases of landing in the South Pole of the Moon specifically?

s: Well, from hyperspectral imagery data that we gather from Earth-based telescopes, we know that there is, we believe, as the global scientific community believes, there's a higher concentration of entrained water ice in the lunar surface in the soil in that region. And so, you know, the geopolitical space race on who's gonna get to the the Moon first or return to the Moon first are both China and the United States are focused on the South Pole. So as scout payloads or scout landers, we are going to the South Pole ahead of everyone to kind of scout for that water ice. And so it's great to be in a position to do that.

a: What would you use that for?

s: Well, as both China and the United States have declared, they're going to the Moon in a sustainable way, with humans you'll need habitats. And with humans and habitats and ascent and return for astronauts, you need consumables, mainly water. You need propulsion, propellants like oxygen, and in our case, methane, so oxygen and methane, and maybe hydrogen for the liquid hydrogen. So it's very useful in terms of having some of the resources that you'll need to sustain life on the Moon and to actually make propellants on the Moon out of the regolith. So that means you don't have to carry all of that with you when you go. And there becomes a business model that says if you can use the resources in situ on the Moon, and the companies that can turn that around and sell that as a service back to the people who governments who wanna be there and do research, there's a business there. And so that's kind of the way that future of the lunar economy will adapt and grow over the coming years.

a: That's super helpful. Thanks, Steve. You know, we're getting close to our time here, so maybe our last three questions here. The first one is, how would you characterize the current regulatory and political climate as it pertains to the growing space economy? You know, do you expect this bipartisan support to continue? Are there any implications in the event of a potential Republican president? Just curious as to your thoughts on how the government and the regulatory environment look like currently for space and for the space economy. 

s: Yeah, I appreciate you asking this one in particular because this has been on my mind and I've been politicking or lobbying in a certain direction for this. But we ran this mission, was really a global enterprise to conduct this mission and part of it was working closely with NASA, with the FAA, with the F for the launch license and the ability to fly and do no harm to people back on Earth, work the disposal of the spacecraft and what was going to happen there. With the FCC, for all the transmitting permissions, we worked with the ITU internationally to get the permissions to transmit and receive on certain frequencies. So we've had to work with the regulatory agencies very closely. I'll tell you it worked, but it can work better. And so I've been up to Capitol Hill, um, in the fourth quarter, I think it was last year, and I talked to the staffers and the authorizers and the appropriators about how can we, um, modify the regulatory, um, uh, approach to enable as far out as the Moon. And there's been a pretty seamless regulatory approvals for LEO-based satellites and GEO-based communications satellites, but they're not really thinking about the Moon. And so I've been advocating for somewhat of a dashboard that says these regulatory agencies must answer back within, say, 30 or 60 days and give us a status on where our applications are so that our business is not hanging in the balance while they figure out whether they're going to approve us or not. And it can't be last minute right up to launch day before you get your approval because that's not sustainable and that's not what the U.S. government wants. And it's gotten great bipartisan support. I think there's a commercial space bill that was drafted that will be on the next budget that's passed that will include some of these ideas. And so I think that's been fairly successful and we'll continue to lobby in that direction so that we can help, the government can help us establish this commercial cislunar economy. I'd say the last one is, you know, the Artemis Accords are the international treaty that's gonna govern how we live and work on the Moon. And we're carving out a space for commercial business at the Moon in the Artemis Accords. And fortunately, the framework is in place, and now it's just to build the regulatory structure underneath that to allow us to coexist, if you will. 

a: Got it. That's super helpful. Thanks for giving us your perspective there. Our last two questions is, Steve, what do you think is most important for investors to be aware of, to understand, as it pertains to Intuitive Machines? If there's one or two takeaways that you'd want to press and emphasize to investors, what would you say?

s: Well, the, you know, for institutional investors in particular, Intuitive Machines is somewhat confounding in terms of we don't fit a category perfectly and we're a category defining kind of business. But the cislunar economy is upon us. And essentially I said today to NASA that we've just kicked down the door to a robust cislunar economy to follow and knock the barriers down for this price, disruptive pricing, to get there. So we're defining a category, and I know that's sometimes frustrating if we don't fit exactly someplace. And I've been trying to talk about that, and I'd be open to ideas about how the institutional analysts might think about cislunar space as a whole nother genre of space company. That's something that's very important. And then the other thing is what we saw is, what I'm after is resilience in the investor community, and commitment and resilience. If this is gonna go forward for the United States and for the world, we have to be able to accept failure. We had our competitor fail, several of the other internationals have failed. Actually every commercial entity that's gone before us has failed. But the resilience of investors to say, no, we're going to keep at this and provide the funds to let these companies go and try and succeed eventually is really important to the future of this cislunar economy. You know, as a CEO, we stepped into the ring and took on this responsibility to land on the Moon, fixed price in four years. And we did it, but we could also not have done it and so putting that much on our shoulders and having to carry it successfully, I've just asked for some continuity and resilience should things not go quite right, even though we demonstrated that we just did it right.

a: I think that's very well said. That's all the time that we have, but Steve, let me once again congratulate you on an incredible, historic and inspirational achievements, obviously you and your team worked very hard. And to your point, right, these missions never go exactly as planned, but the fact that you were able to pivot, to land successfully, to compile and transmit that data, I think is an incredible milestone. And hopefully we'll see a lot more of these launches in the coming years. I want to give you maybe last opportunity to share any closing remarks, any last thoughts that you'd like to provide?

s: Well, I just got out of a NASA press conference before this call and I got this question as like, are you humbled or are you emboldened by this mission? And I'll tell you, I was humbled leading up to this just by the sheer weight of what we were asked to do. The team has helped me in terms of emboldening all of us to carry this load. And now I can say with confidence that we're emboldened. We stepped up, we stepped in the arena, like I like to say, and we delivered on what we said. It's a very difficult thing for companies to do. And we did that. And we said it a long time ago, here's what we're gonna do. And as a result, the United States is winning. And as a result, the Artemis program and sustained human space flight to the Moon is winning. And NASA's winning. And that means a bright future for Intuitive Machines.

a: Wonderful. Well, thanks again, Steve. Thank you so much for joining us. And thank you to everyone that dialed in as well. A replay link will be available after this call. Steve, thank you very much and keep doing the great job that you and your team are doing.

s: Thank you, Andres. I appreciate the time.

a: Thank you, everyone. Take care. Bye bye.


Ref: https://investors.intuitivemachines.com/events/event-details/intuitive-machines-ceo-steve-altemus-fireside-chat-cantor-fitzgerald-following



March 10, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

MASTERS of SCALE PODCAST: RAPID RESPONSE Landing on the moon w/ Intuitive Machines’ Steve Altemus, President and CEO & Bob Safian of MASTERS of SCALE (transcript)

In tackling our own moonshots, few businesses can offer inspiration like Intuitive Machines. When the company’s Odysseus lander touched down on the Moon on February 22, Intuitive Machines became the first private enterprise ever to reach the Moon — and the first U.S. presence on the surface in 52 years. CEO Steve Altemus joins Rapid Response host Bob Safian to share how his team navigated multiple last-minute challenges, with lessons about both meticulous planning and swift adaptability. From autonomous vehicles and 3D printed engines to leveraging software and AI, Altemus explains how commercial space exploration is leaving the realm of science fiction to become a real industry.

MISSION DIRECTOR: All stations, this is mission director on IM-1. We’re evaluating how we can refine that signal and dial in the pointing for our dishes. But we can confirm without a doubt, our equipment is on the surface of the Moon, and we are transmitting. So, congratulations, IM team. We’ll see how much more we can get from that.

Excellent call from our mission director, and over to our CEO Steve Altemus. 

STEVE ALTEMUS: Yeah, If I could just pass on a few words to the entire team at Intuitive Machines and Superbad and here in the mission control: what an outstanding effort. I know this was a nail biter, but we are on the surface, and we are transmitting and welcome to the Moon. Houston Odysseus has found its new home.

BOB SAFIAN: Hey everyone, Bob Safian here. That was Steve Altemus, the CEO of Intuitive Machines, which recently became the first company ever to land on the Moon — and the first U.S. presence there in more than 50 years. But so many things didn’t go as planned, requiring multiple rapid responses, always with imperfect information, and under intense time pressure. The fact that the Odysseus lander made it to the Moon’s surface at all, even if it was on its side, is kinda miraculous. Back in the day Steve worked on Space Shuttle launches at NASA, some 40 of them. Now he’s trying to start a whole new industry in space, and Odie, as he calls the Odysseus lander, is the first step in that process.

SAFIAN: You spend all this time planning. I know you, you 3D print your own rockets. You pulled together a communications network to stay in touch. You developed autonomous landing process. Odysseus becomes an autonomous vehicle as it approaches the surface, which we'll get to… so much prep. But you said in advance that there is only a 75 percent chance of success. Do you expect things not to go as planned as you’re going into something as difficult and dramatic as, as you know, trying to land on the Moon?

ALTEMUS: So many things have to go right, have to go absolutely perfectly. Only 40 percent of all missions to the Moon in the history of mankind were successful. That means a 60 percent failure rate, and that includes all the Apollo missions that were successful, right?

SAFIAN: It’s hard to know which dramatic moment to ask you to walk us through first. You have the February 15th launch. And then as you get closer to landing, all kinds of trouble breaks out, which you resolve and are able to land on the Moon, but then things are not quite operating as you hoped once you’re on the Moon. 

ALTEMUS: We launched off of a Falcon 9, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and we had our problems with loading the liquid oxygen/liquid methane onto our lander. You know, that has not been done in over 30 years, that was very hazardous. We went through two wet dress rehearsals and then finally a launch. Getting to launch vehicle separation and acquisition of signal was another major piece where we flew separately from the rocket. On our own, on our way to the Moon we have to orient ourselves in space. That was a major, major, milestone. This liquid oxygen/liquid methane engine, that we 3D print in-house, and we’ve built the whole thing and invented the whole thing ourselves, had never been fired in space, or never been fired in a vacuum. So was that going to work?

SAFIAN: So take me to the first sort of mission critical moment when you’re approaching landing. It’s the night of the 21st, it’s around 10 o’clock and you get a call to come in. 

ALTEMUS: Boy, it was one of those calls like you don’t want to get at night when it says you ought to get in here right now. Turns out that our Lunar Orbit Insertion maneuver, that puts us into a roughly 100 kilometer by 100 kilometer circular orbit around the orbit around the Moon, was misshapen. We were very low on what they call parallel in the bottom the orbit near the South Pole. And we know that mountains in the area at the South Pole that we were flying by were 6 kilometers high. And you know, folks were worried about “Oh, we’re gonna hit the Moon. We’re to hit the South Pole of the Moon, we’re too low.” I say, “Wait a minute. Let’s just calm down. Everybody just stay focused. Take our time, let’s get this maneuver right.” And we actually burn the engine again and raise that parallel up to the right altitude to set us up for power descent. And so that was a matter of just keeping our heads together, dealing with the problem that was right in front of us, solve that one, to go live another day to solve the next problem that was coming.

SAFIAN: One of the hardest challenges for leaders in all situations is knowing sort of when to delegate and when to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself. 

ALTEMUS: In times of crisis or critical moments, how you carry yourself is really important and a calming influence. In this case it was necessary. The operations team knew what to do. They had a plan. But the criticality or the consequence of doing that wrong was so severe, we were going to lose the mission to the Moon, that we needed to take a deep breath. We have three operations teams, red, white and blue team. And then on the outside of the control room. There’s a team four and I was one of the two leaders of team four. So we’re there to troubleshoot to make sure to get the experts together and make a decision and then give that to the mission director to go implement. And that’s what we did here in this case with that critical lunar correction maneuver to raise that orbit. And it worked. It worked.


Adjusting the Odyssues’s lasers for landing

SAFIAN: So my understanding is that Odysseus, as it approaches landing, becomes an autonomous vehicle. In other words, it’s got to find its own spot to land, right? And you’ve got a hazard detection avoidance, HDA, which are sort of cameras and lasers that help the computer on the vehicle find the right place to land. Am I explaining that the right way? 

ALTEMUS: Yeah, the vehicle had to be prepared to autonomously start the engine. The Odie burned the engine himself and cruised along and took pictures or images of the craters and then could tell how fast he was going over surface by how fast the craters moved underneath him. We look ahead at the landing site and scan, with hazard relative navigation cameras we use the HRN, and we found nine different points within our landing ellipse that were clear to land in and that had slopes less than 10 degrees and rocks smaller than bowling balls.

SAFIAN: My understanding is that there were lasers that you were planning to use for this landing, but that for some reason they weren’t operating. And so you sort of borrowed lasers from a project that you were carrying on on Odysseus on the vehicle for NASA.

ALTEMUS: Tim Crane, who is my partner in the company, he’s also the mission director, and when I told him, “Hey, uh, we’re going to have to land without a laser range finder.” He turned white as a ghost. It was like a punch in the stomach. He’s like, “We can’t, we can’t land without range finders.” So we’re walking down the hall trying to figure out, do we put a script in there and just pretend we understand the surface of the Moon and go for it and, you know, a simulated script? No, no, no, that won’t work. And then all of a sudden the light bulb goes on in his head. He’s like, “I know! We’ve got three lasers on board that aren’t being used. Those are the NASA Doppler LiDAR lasers.” Brilliant, brilliant, idea of how to use the spacecraft and how to use other other assets on the spacecraft. And so, uh, we made a phone call as team four to NASA and said: “Hey, you have this NASA doppler LiDAR, and we’re watching it, and it’s shadowing our landing. We want to have the actual navigation application read those laser measurements,” So we made makeshift laser rangefinders out of the NASA doppler LiDAR by reprogramming our navigation application to trick the software to have those laser beams think they were the laser range finders. We took about a month’s work of navigation software development and did it in about 45 minutes.

SAFIAN: You mentioned earlier this sort of the adjustment you were making on the orbit. Was this adjustment around the lasers happening at the same time? 

ALTEMUS: The fact that we had a low orbit coming in after lunar orbit insertion. We turned on one of the lasers and attempted to fire it to see what our altitude was, and we didn’t get the laser, the fire. So all of a sudden we realized we have to do something.

SAFIAN: So if you hadn’t had that orbital problem, when you discovered the laser problem, it might have been too late to make the adjustment that you ended up making that allowed you to land the way you did.

ALTEMUS: Oh, yeah, absolutely, we would not have been able to make it. As it turns out though, as we worked all day to write that software, to solve the problem with the NASA Doppler LiDAR, as we went into power descent, we did not receive those NDL measurements. And so we landed without the laser altimeters in the end. But we had done some work, you know, to get us there. And we looked at NASA’s Doppler LiDAR telemetry, and boy, did it track perfectly so it would have really put us down softly if we could have read those measurements.

SAFIAN: I see. So you went through this effort to pull that together, but in the end it didn’t impact the way the vehicle actually operated.

ALTEMUS: Right, we failed to ingest those measurements. And so we didn’t get the benefit of using them. But that’s okay. We did the work, and we showed it could be done. And then in the end, it proved out just how accurate our navigation application is. So while some people say you landed short of your landing site, or you landed hard, probably three meters a second versus one meter per second, the fact is it’s like flying a fighter jet blindfolded with a dead stick onto an aircraft carrier. That’s what we did on the Moon, basically. And, it just showed that these algorithms that we have for navigation were so accurate that we were able to salvage the landing, without all the necessary equipment. 


Losing communication in the control room

SAFIAN: So I was watching the video of the landing and sort of the lander gets to the surface. I’m watching your control room there, which I guess for you is just the office, but it looks, it looks like a control room.

ALTEMUS: A control room, yeah.

SAFIAN: And it gets this surface and silence, like there’s like one minute and two minutes and you’re sort of waiting like what is going through your head while you’re waiting to find out because you don’t know whether it’s at that point, whether it’s landed successfully or not, because you’re not getting any data back. Right?

ALTEMUS: Yeah, I’m looking over my shoulder. And there’s a prop console, which is watching the engine firing. And there’s the flight dynamics officer who’s watching how we’re tracking the spacecraft. Everything looks perfect. And then all the screens go purple, and that’s an indication that we don’t have communications. So it’s funny because all of the NASA VIPs that were here were in the conference room that looks over the control center through big glass windows. And we’re okay, I better go say something to them. So I went in there and I said, “Look, we had good propulsion. We had good flight dynamics and control, but we don’t have communications yet.” And boy, their faces were kind of stern. And then I go back into the control room, and we’re sitting there for minutes and then all of a sudden, bing, we get a ping from the spacecraft. So that’s when you saw a little bit of cheering in the control room, just modest. And then I went back into the conference room with the NASA officials and said, “We have communications,” and they just were ecstatic at that point. And from that point on, just more and more communications and more and more understanding as we got data back on what the vehicle orientation was and that we were going to be able to do science on the surface. And we were going to be able to receive all the data back from how our system performed on the surface. And so it just got better and better.

SAFIAN: One of your colleagues said to me that there were 11 different things that went wrong, that each had like a 70 percent chance of being able to fix them, which in aggregate means that the odds of success were like, 2 percent when you put all that together. When you look at all that, do you feel like, “Oh, we were lucky?”, like, how do you gauge your success in light of those parameters,

ALTEMUS: Odysseus or Odie wouldn’t let us sit back and watch. We had a lot of work to do all the way to, to the last moment. There is something, um, spiritual about it. I think there were a whole lot of people around the world pulling for us, and there is a certain reverence and respect we have for the mission to return the United States to the Moon for the first time in 52 years. But how do you take those odds of potential failure? And it was the team who showed agility and resilience and stick-to-itiveness or perseverance. No one gave up until the last moments or the last breath of Odie, when the sun was, was, was leaving the solar arrays and the battery was discharging. We blasted down the last image. And I think that’s how you raise the odds; you have that attitude like we’re not going to give up. We’re going to find a way. We’re going to be innovative to the end. And that’s what we did.

SAFIAN:There is something spiritual, as Steve puts it, about navigating through all those last-minute travails, especially when you’re up in the heavens. But there were also challenges once Odie was on the surface of the Moon, and then of course all the business challenges back here on Earth. We’ll talk about those when we come back. Stay with us.  




Why Steve Altemus left NASA

SAFIAN: Before the break, we heard CEO Steve Altemus of Intuitive Machines talk about being in the control room as the first U.S. Moon lander in 50 years encountered difficulties on its way to the surface. Now we dig into the touchdown, whether it was a success, and how his background at NASA paved the way for his business. Plus, planning for the next moon buggy and other adventures in the emerging space exploration industry. Which, thanks to the Odie mission, is now operational. You started your career, spent a lot of your career at NASA. And you left and I’m curious, like why? Obviously you’re working very closely with NASA.

ALTEMUS: Yes, absolutely working closely. I worked at Kennedy Space center for about 16 years. Was involved in 40 launches of the space shuttles, half of which were off of Launch Complex Pad A, which is where we launched our own spacecraft on the SpaceX rocket, and then went and ran engineering at the Johnson Space Center for Human Spaceflight programs for another decade or so. And that was my career. And we had no political will at the time I left to return the United States to the Moon. I think that period of time inside of NASA, working in engineering with no destination was very frustrating. And I went through the cancellation of the Constellation Program, which was the Moon program. And came up with this idea to fly a walking robot to the Moon in a thousand days and do it within engineering like an entrepreneur. And so I started that, and that was successful. We flew that Earth-based test bed of that lander 37 times. And we built a walking robot and flew that on the International Space Station. We never got to go to the Moon, but we did that for pennies on the dollar and showed that you can be innovative, you can be agile within a bureaucracy. You can be lean and affordable. So that was the premise going into starting Intuitive Machines, that culture. And that’s why we’re able to be successful, I think. And I think we’ll continue to be successful as a result of that.


“There has never been a perfect space exploration mission, period.”

SAFIAN: And so when Odie’s there but it’s on its side. It’s not exactly where you want it to be. And there’s a challenge about how to maximize communications and data exchange and stuff. How do you think about the relative success of a mission? Cause you’re still scrounging at that point, right? 

ALTEMUS: I think let me just say, unqualified success. And that’s: land softly on the Moon, do your science on the Moon, and return that data back to your customer. And in the end, we used our model, our business model, and proved it right, which is this lean, affordable, fixed price way of contracting to go to the Moon. And I think we’ve established a new economic limit and are ready to open up the cislunar economy as a result of it, and be the first ones pioneering through. So from that perspective, this is a wild success. Would I have liked the gear to stand up to that heavier load or touchdown? Sure. And, you know, there’s a lot of detractors on social media who say you broke a landing gear. Well, you know what? Our spacecraft got the opportunity to use their landing gear. Not many have, right in, in the past.

SAFIAN: Because of all the drama around this landing, in some ways you got more attention maybe than you might have gotten otherwise. Do you think about that at all?

ALTEMUS: Um, well, I guess there’s no bad press. All press is good press. I would like to be perfect going to the Moon. But I’ll tell you, I’ve been associated with a lot of spacecraft missions, a lot of space exploration missions. There has not ever been a perfect space exploration mission, period. 40 shuttle launches, there’s always flight anomalies. I think there’s a little naivety in the community outside of the space community that thinks that it can be perfect. It’s just physics and hardware and software, and sometimes they’re in harsh environments, and sometimes they’re in conflict, and you have failures that you have to deal with. 

SAFIAN: I’m thinking back to 2003, after the shuttle Columbia fell apart on reentry and killed everyone aboard, you were part of the team, the reconstruction team. During the last few weeks, did you find yourself reflecting on that, and going back to those experiences or do you try not to think about that? Like, I don’t want to think about what the worst that could happen is.

ALTEMUS: I led a team of about 400 people in the reconstruction of Columbia back in 2003. Very intense time, but what we were doing was solving a problem to return the United States back to flight of the space shuttle. You know, we had gone through the mourning period, and now this part of rebuilding the orbiter and finding a solution was cathartic for us. 

SAFIAN: I’m sure you’ve gleaned a bunch of technical lessons from the experience. Are there process and leadership lessons as well that the last two weeks have either anchored for you or introduced for you?

ALTEMUS: Oh my goodness, yes. There’s so many technical and operational things, but I think one, it’s the culture of this company, right? The people, you build a company that is mission-focused, with a purpose, a national strategic purpose. And they’re going to give you every bit. You know, Odie didn’t leave anything on the table. There was no methane left, was no helium left. There’s no power left. And I think this team did the same. This team gave everything to this mission. And that’s why we’re successful and now, we have not only the ability to build incredible spacecraft, we have a team that knows how to do that and can fly them in space. So we’re leaps and bounds ahead of others in the world that are trying to do this.


What’s at stake for Intuitive Machines?

SAFIAN: Yeah. So, what’s at stake now for Intuitive Machines? 

ALTEMUS: I think what we’ve done is shown that there’s a different model in aerospace in space exploration. One, we’re a publicly traded company. LUNR is our call sign, L U N R.

SAFIAN: Amazing call sign by the way.

ALTEMUS: It’s the coolest ever. And then we have two more missions to go. Probably later this and then one early next year. We’ve designed and offered to the government their next human moon buggy, the lunar terrain vehicle, and we would deliver that to the surface. It’s about the size of an F-150 pickup truck and sell that as a service the government and sell it to commercial interest also. And so providing that space infrastructure as a service is kind of, we’re on our way landing softly, communicating, navigating and bringing equipment, cargo and mobility to the surface. I think we’re a category defining business at this point, publicly traded space exploration company. Somebody said that back in Apollo days, it was a great time to be alive as an aerospace engineer. Everybody would say that and look back at Apollo and say, boy, that was the best time. And now we say, this is the best time to be alive as an aerospace engineer because you can dream this big and succeed. And have a business that does that a living. So, I think it’s a really special time in history and I love to be a pioneer and breaking this new frontier for the United States.

SAFIAN: Well, Steve, this has been great. Thank you. Thanks for sharing all this even though I know you are still recovering.

ALTEMUS: Just a little bit. I’m going to take a vacation. My wife’s going to steal me away for a week and hide me away in the world someplace.

SAFIAN: To be honest, I’ve never been much of a space buff. When I was running Fast Company, editors would pitch space-related stories, and I was always lukewarm. It just seemed more like science fiction than business. But what Intuitive Machines and Odie have done kinda turns me around. Operating in space seems fantastical, but it’s becoming real. There are so many lessons in this journey – about planning and about adaptability, about taking ideas from everywhere, about software and autonomous vehicles and the potential of AI. But most of all for me, it’s about dreaming, about creating the future we want, through active, deliberate, considered effort – and yes, a little bit of luck too. m. There are a lot of intractable problems on Earth right now. But if we can manage to handle difficulties all the way on the Moon, maybe, just maybe, we can be inspired to handle things here at home too. I’m Bob Safian. Thanks for listening.

Ref: https://mastersofscale.com/landing-on-the-moon/

March 7, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Putting the Moon back into Innovation Orbit w/ Steve Altemus from Forging the Future w/ Chris Howard [10.26.2023] -> Transcript

So we not only can fly to the Moon, we have the first ever Lunar Distance Network. It's fully commercial. As a necessity because you have to build it all commercially. So quite innovative. And so we're very excited about that mission.

Chris (c): Welcome to Forging the Future. And there isn't anything that screams innovation louder than space, although you can't, in space no one can hear you scream, so. But I'm here today at NASA filming with Steve Altemus, President and CEO of Intuitive Machines. And Steve, welcome to the show.

Steve (s): Pleasure to be here, Chris, thank you.

c: I'm really excited about this mission briefing we're going to get today and also, really full circle, I interned at IBM FSD at NASA 40 years ago during the shuttle days and it was when they built this building. So it's like old home week for me to be back and excited to be here with the show. So you were just six years old when Neil Armstrong made history in 1969, becoming the first human to land and walk on the moon. How were you inspired by that?

s: Well, I don't quite remember being 6 years old, but my first inspiration about space really came when I was going to study aeronautical engineering at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And as I was walking across from the engineering class, across to the University Center, the Challenger mission went up off of Kennedy Space Center. As I was walking across, I saw it climb, climb, climb, and then break into pieces and explode. And the two boosters went off into this kind of trident shape. And I knew at that moment that we had lost it. And I went into the University Center and it was on CNN at the time. They were saying, we're looking, we're looking. And they were calling for it. I said, it's gone. And I didn't realize at that moment, my fate, my destiny was to end up working in the space program and working for NASA. And I spent 25 years in NASA human spaceflight, the last 10 of which I was the Engineering Director at Johnson Space Center leading Human Spaceflight Engineering for all human spaceflight programs that came through Johnson Space Center. And actually retired from NASA to form Intuitive Machines as a Deputy Center Director of Johnson Space Center.

c: Mmm. Well, to bring that even more full circle for me is that I was here during that exact moment.

s: Oh, wow.

c: I was working for, like I said, IBM. I actually had written a program that they were going to use on the Teacher in Space mission that Kristin McAuliffe was on...

s: Yeah...

c: Challenger during that time and watched that launch and that accident happen in the lunchroom here in the FSD building, which is now Boeing, right?

s: Yeah. And then now the former IBM, now Boeing building. That's where we are today, right?

c: Yes. Mmm hmm.

s: Except the top floor, sixth floor here is the Intuitive Machines.

c: Right. You've got the top, you're the top dog here now. But it's just interesting how the paths of life take you. And I didn't know that story before you just told it. And yeah, it was a definitely a dark moment in space history for the shuttle program, but we've come a long way since then.

s: Yeah, if I could comment on that one more kind of unique moment was that many, many years later in 2003, we lost the Columbia...

c (nodding head): Mmm.

s: coming over East Texas and it broke up. And from my perch at the time was Kennedy Space Center. I was asked to lead the reconstruction of Columbia. And so put all the 85,000 pieces of debris back together and determine what the forensic cause, you know, of what the accident was. There was a huge team and our piece was studying the debris to look at the forensics. And so from my days at college, at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, seeing that and then having to participate in another major accident and help NASA recover from that. And that was actually a launching pad for moving to Johnson Space Center to come lead and run engineering at Johnson Space Center. So it kind of was all tied together in a way.

c: But you had chosen aerospace before then. Was there anything behind that decision you were going to really for aerospace, aerospace engineering?

s: Well, when I went, I left, I come from a construction family. If you look in the background here, it's Bethlehem Steel. It was funny because my parents were from families that one side of the Bethlehem Steel plant was during World War II was making ordnance and the other side of my family was making armament. And whoever, if the ordnance pierced the armament, then the ordnance group got bonuses. And if the armament withheld, then they got bonuses. And so World War II family, Bethlehem Steel family, it was all construction. And I was one that broke out to say, I want to go fly jets, I want to go fly airplanes. And I went to the Harvard of the skies, which was Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. And at the time they didn't have an aerospace degree. So I got an aeronautical engineering degree to learn how to design and build aircraft. And from that, I immediately went into helicopters and then I went to Boeing helicopters when I had an opportunity to go to NASA. And that's where I became an aerospace engineer.

c: And how was that? Were any cool projects while you were at the university, a program that you remember?

s: Yeah, we had no computers. And our design projects were detailed design of a, well, first the general design of an entire aircraft and drawings, blueprint drawings, pencil drawings, and then actually do a detailed design of a component like a wing, a horizontal stabilator, you know, those kinds of things. And so those are very enjoyable. Taught you drafting the old way, taught you how to do blueprints and then also how to do design.

c: But yeah, no, people don't remember. Like when I was at IBM 40 years ago here at FSD, which was the Federal System Division, they had the first IBM PC for the entire department.

s: Right.

c: There weren't computers on every desk. Yeah, yeah

s: Yeah. There was no desktop...

c: Mmm...

s: PC.

c: Mmm hmm. Yeah, but we're still launching things to space and.designing and engineering without having the individual workstations. There was 3270s and some of those like terminal based computers but nothing like people..

s: Right..

c: think about it today.

s: Right.

c: I wanted to pass out mission control in there which is super cool with the people sitting in the ring and everyone testing out the lunar module that you're working on but people forget that you just didn't have the the computer power that they do now or that like the first lunar lander had like the equivalent of like a TI [Texas Instruments] calculator or something like that as far as power, right?

s: Isn't that crazy? You know, when the Apollo program started, there was no computer, there were people and then, and slide rolls and hand calculations on the chalkboard and then MIT had to build that first computer...

c: Mmm hmm..

s: and invent it. And now, that's one of the reasons we can have a company that aspires to go to the Moon, fixed price, in the time it takes to get an undergraduate degree. And you can do that standing on the shoulders of everybody who's built all this technology and invested in this technology over the years. So now, we can buy technology off the shelf that can go to the Moon.

c: Right.

s: And that's what gives us the advantage at this point.

c:  Do you have an internship program? Do you use interns?

s: Oh my God, yes. They're just so bright and their minds are so elastic. We have interns come even from day one, we had, you know, if we had 30 people in the company, we would have 10 interns in the summer, right? And we put them with somebody and we train and we have them back again and again. Now we've gone even well beyond that. So we do internships with San Jacinto Community College. So we build a curriculum to train aerospace technicians, give them certification degrees or certificate degrees, machining, electronics, composite materials, those kinds of things. They come out of the EDGE Center up at the Spaceport Houston, we give them an internship. And then if they work out, we hire them full-time. Now I've worked with San Jacinto Community College to extend that. So those who went through that program and were interns for Intuitive Machines, now Intuitive Machines does tuition reimbursement for their engineering technology degree to get their first associate's degree. So we're really trying to grow the workforce in this area and really touch labor, right? We need touch labor. There's a shortage of that. And so aerospace quality touch labor is where our focus is. We get a lot of the university partnerships that send interns. It's from all over the country, actually.

c: I think a lot of businesses think interns are heavy lifting and you're bringing in like a high school student and having to mentor them and have a whole internship program. What I really liked about the IBM co-op program at the time was they treated me just like any other engineer. You know. I was sharing an office with a guy that had been at IBM for 40 years, right..

s: Yeah.

c: I was assigned projects to actually make, and actually being like the only coder on that project, umm learned by doing, right? And it's not like I had someone like actively mentoring me. Is that similar to your experience? I mean, you have what 11,000 people in NASA that are employed here, umm.

s: For me, umm.. you know, since NASA, we had Johnson Space Center, we had over 12,000..

c: 12,000..

s: people. And, you know, I would have 30 interns in engineering directorate, which had 900 civil servants and 2000 contractors and 30 interns, doesn't seem right. At Intuitive Machines now, we bring them in and we put them to work. And all the feedback I've gotten from the intern program at Intuitive Machines is, wow, I'm actually working on a lunar lander. I'm actually working on software that's going to go and help this thing land on the Moon softly. They have an incredible amount of responsibility. The internships are like, they're about the people, right? But they're also about the university relationships. So because we have programs to bring in the university students at the undergraduate level, the master's level, PhD, and shared faculty, now we have a relationship. So it's back to the way it used to be in Apollo, where there was strong R&D, research and development, going on in the universities, and federal dollars would flow through NASA to universities. We do that same model where Intuitive Machines has a relationship with over 15 different universities, where we're reaching into their faculty and their students to get real products out of them that go into our missions. I just see that model as was very effective back in the 60s and we lost it here in budget cuts and everything over the past decades where that R&D funding has dried up. So I've kind of took a page from history and applied it to Intuitive Machines.

c: And I love to hear that. And I imagine that people scramble to get into that kind of program because so many other places as an intern you end up being a copy jockey. They don't know what to do with you..

s: Yeah..

c: because they're not actually treating you like you can contribute.

s: Yeah. Well you see the light go on in an interns... you just see the light bulb go on over their head when they're actually like oh my God I can actually work in aerospace. I can actually see a career. I could see myself being a world class engineer. Even the technicians that we bring in from the EDGE Center at San Jacinto thought they would never, they didn't, they would never work on a space program. Didn't think they had it in them. And now we see their confidence level go up. I can do just about anything. Their imagination explodes. It's just fantastic.

c: So Steve, you're pushing the lunar exploration for, through Intuitive Machines. I mean, how did that get started? What's the mission behind the company?

s: Yeah, a very interesting story about how we ended up as a company here in this time in history with the mission that we have. So I'll explain. So I was working in engineering, leading engineering for the human spaceflight programs, and I was responsible for developing the next program architectures for human spaceflight. Essentially, how do you get humans off the planet in an overly constrained environment, right? With the political biases that there were or the different stakeholders that there were, there is no pure physics solution that you can come up with that meets all the stakeholders' needs. And that's what I was asked to do as a space architect was come up with a program that would meet the congressional needs in terms of how much they could appropriate, meet the expectation of the executive branch which said I need something quickly. And so within budget, quickly, overly constrained. And..

c: safely...

s: By the way, the Moon is out of favor. You're not allowed to go back to the Moon at the time because we had been there, done that, and we were capabilities driven architectures, what they had, which is do all the technologies you need to get to Mars. So they come in and create a new, you know, the Constellation program was canceled. That was the Moon program in NASA at the time. They said, come up with a new idea. So they gave me the human exploration framework team to build, which is how to make decisions in space, on-ramping commercial space, and what do you do with the remnants of Constellation to create something. So I came up with that and said, hey, you can't get rid of all the remnants of Constellation. You need that, you need Johnson Space Center, and you need mission control and mission operations. You need Huntsville and Marshall Space Flight Center. And if you cut Space Launch System and Orion, you'll lose those centers and you'll lose human space flight for decades. So rather than we see the SpaceX commercial space coming on strong, but slowly, it wasn't quite there yet. So to take all our eggs out of the basket of human space flight and the traditional programs with big aerospace and give them to this quote startup called SpaceX, seemed premature. And so my decision was, brief, to the administrator, you gotta keep SLS and you gotta keep Orion and you gotta keep them moving at the time. So then they said, well, you can't go back to the Moon, what are you gonna do? So we came up with another thing that said, go to, we call it the waypoint, today it's called the gateway, and it's an orbiting station in a near rectilinear halo orbit that was not to go to the Moon but would allow as a stepping off point outside the gravity well of the Moon, allow international partners to go down to the surface because they still wanted to go to the Moon. It allowed us in the United States to explore deep space. It was actually an electric propulsion spacecraft, space station that could go out a million miles out to the, you know, Earth/Sun Lagrange points and then back to the Moon. It would teach about long duration space flight. It would teach about flying beyond your ability to abort to Earth right away. You'd have to fly out into blackout periods, much like trying to go to Mars. And yet, it still preserved the Moon as a potential opportunity to go forward. Put that in place, talked about that, sold that around the world, went to all the different, we did that under the International Space Station Collaboration and Consortium. So talked to all the countries and convinced them that this was an essential compromise if we were going to move forward. And I came back and I was told, no way, we're not doing that. So I was very frustrated.

c: Why did they say no? I mean, do you think?

s: Because there was no appetite to build a gateway around the Moon. It was just, there was no interest at this time, 2010, 2012 timeframe to kind of think about the Moon at all. And so we're not doing that. So I went off and formed this project called Project M which was to take, this was a rogue project inside of NASA, to take a liquid oxygen/liquid methane lander, because we in engineering were pushing liquid oxygen/liquid methane cryogenics, build a lander, put a walking robot on a lander and fly it to the Moon in a thousand days. Overly constrained, super tough problem, advancing technologies on many, many fronts and do it with no real appropriations. And the team said, yes, we're go. You know what we did? It turned into Project Morpheus, but we built a liquid oxygen/liquid methane propulsion system on a lander that was an Earth-based lander, and we flew it 37 times. We lifted off, we flew it across Kennedy Space Center and landed in a simulated lunar base at the end of the shuttle landing facility. We observed how the dust plumes came up and how the instruments were occluded; navigation instruments got occluded by the dust and still landed successfully. We proved out that you could light and relight a liquid oxygen/liquid methane engine, and we determined how to land with precision and avoid hazards. Huge technology breakthroughs. And in addition to that, we built a walking robot, and we launched it to Space Station, and it cleaned duct work on Space Station. Didn't know all of that was possible.. umm actually.. the robot on space, tending space station was written about by Isaac Asimov.

c: Oh, really?

s: And I didn't know that science fiction had written about it before we had gone and done it and proved it out. I just find that interesting. But out of that, we actually, through sheer force of will, imagined that whole program into existence within a large bureaucracy.

c: You were an intrapreneur at that point.

s: That's right. And so when there was no real motion inside of NASA on where we're going and no destination. I said, that's time for me to go figure out what else to do. And so I came up with a concept called Intuitive Machines which was gonna serve energy, medicine and aerospace because I was in Houston; step outside the gate and begin where you are is the way I thought about it. And it wasn't until 2018, we started in 2013, and we had, you know, 25 inventions in the first five years, oil and gas, energy, healthcare and aerospace, uh.. long range drones, thousand mile over the horizon, fixed wing drones.

c: So you were doing more industries in the beginning of Intuitive Machines?

s: Yeah, and then in 2018, the National ecurity Council and the National Space Council came through and said, the Moon is of strategic interest. We are essentially in a, in a competition with China to land on the Moon and whoever holds the high ground on the Moon sets the norms and behaviors in space. And so they said, put NASA at the point of the spear and use soft power, and have NASA ignite the US economy and show how the US economy can demonstrate its technical prowess, and commercial companies can land on the Moon. So they created a program called the CLPS program, Commercial Lunar Payload Service contract, 10 year contract, 2.6 billion dollars. You get in, you get the right to hunt and bid. So we won that. Oh my God, that was amazing. Nine vendors won a shot, a seat at the table to bid on flying, compliments of NASA payloads to the Moon. And we would own the infrastructure, right. We would own the complete service and we would return the data back to NASA. That's what you saw in our mission control here in Houston. We're sending data back to the payload operation centers around the world right now as we're talking. So we, first task order came out. Boom, we win a shot to fly the first mission. That's our mission going up November 16th. We ship to the Cape and we'll launch off of Pad A. We ship to the Cape October 5th. We launch off of Pad A on November 16th of this year.

c: How hard was it to get a shot at it in the beginning there? Because you said you got an opportunity to do this, and then you won again in order to do the first mission, right? So I mean, how long did that take?

s: Yeah, so we got a seat at the table, and everybody who got into the contract got a $25,000 task order to write a plan. I mean, it was nothing. It wasn't the thing. But when you win a task order, you have the chance to return the United States to the Moon as a company for the first time in 50 years. That was huge. Well, then we're going along, another task order comes out, we win that. Another task order comes out, we win that. So now we have three missions to the Moon. Now we're resilient to failures. We have an opportunity to actually be successful as a business. So that's kind of how it all got started. And now here we are with our first mission complete four years later, with the lander here at Spaceport Houston at Ellington Field, complete, doing integrated payload testing with our mission control. And we built a lunar data network around the world using radio astronomy dishes that usually stare into deep space but when the Moon's in view they can't because of the background noise the moon creates. So we point the dishes at the Moon and we communicate line of sight to the Moon and bring that data back to mission control. So we not only can fly to the Moon we have the first ever lunar distance network that's fully commercial as a necessity because you have to build it all commercially, so quite innovative. And so we're very excited about that mission.

c: And the mission specifically is to do what? Is you're going to land on the South Pole?

s: Yeah, we're going to land on the South Pole region of the Moon. Imagine landing not exactly on the South Pole, but in Antarctica. And what we're going to do initially is mainly navigate ourselves to that location, observe the dust plume as the engine comes down and disrupts the surface. What does that look like for the future? Measure the background, electromagnetic background of the Moon itself. We don't have a good understanding of that. Do a couple of navigation payloads using laser Doppler LIDAR, and also an RF experiment called LN1, which uses RF to help with navigation. So just a few payloads, NASA payloads, and then I have a few commercial payloads on it. And then the next mission, really will be closer to the actual South Pole. We'll land on a place called Shackleton Ridge and we'll drill for water ice. And from there, we'll drill down about a meter and we'll read the tailings pile with a mass spectrometer and determine what the constituents of that core drill is going to be, and is there entrained water ice in the soil and discover for the first time water on the surface.

c: Why is that important?

s: Well, it's a resource that allows you to have a sustained habitation or a habitable presence on the Moon because you can make consumables that astronauts need and you can also use it to make propellants for something like oxmethane, which is what our propulsion system is all about.

c: Interesting. And then a little bit about the extreme environment. You were telling me earlier the temperature swing. So it actually swings from...

s: Oh yeah.

c: Like Houston temperature I think, this summer. (laughing)

s: Close to what it feels like. Boy, the moon is such a hostile environment. And it is not an easy descent to the moon. But just the temperature, thermal environment; in the sunlight you go from 250 degrees Fahrenheit to when as soon as the terminator comes across or you're in the shadow, you're at minus 280 degrees Fahrenheit. That 500 plus degree temperature swing is just brutal on electronics. It's brutal on structure. It just is a really tough thing to engineer yourself around. So, but that's the challenge. That's what we accepted. That's what we stepped up for.

c: So you've had a lot of successes this year. You're an EY finalist and I was also, but you won. Congratulations.

s: Yeah, here's to both of us.

c: Yeah. Go for it next year, but literal moonshot. So I like that and then you also went public as a as a company and not too long ago, right? and tell me a little bit about ringing the bell.

s: Wow. Yeah I have, a little trophy back here (pointing to trophy on shelf), opening bell: Lunar, the coolest call sign on the Nasdaq, ticker LUNR. And I think it was one of the great life experiences that I've had is to be able to build a company from a napkin and take it all the way to a public company as a founder and CEO. Um, and to see, you know, the vision just come to life over the past 10 years. Um, it was really, really an exceptional event, Nasdaq does it well. And what I wanted to do, um, was I wanted to put the heat and light on what we were trying to do as a commercial, I wanted more people to be aware of space exploration and that we were setting out as a business to commercialize cislunar space. So what we got to the point was we're very capital efficient as a business. But when we won the three missions, suddenly there's resilience in the business. We had an ability to try and try and try again should we have failed. Unlike some commercial lunar companies that have one lander, they try it, they fail, they go bankrupt. I didn't want that model. So what I wanted to do was build some resilience in the backlog of work that we had, the missions we had. Build diversity in the revenue streams. I could sell communication services now, right? Because we built that ground network. I can sell orbital services to drop satellites off into exotic orbits that's never been done before, because we don't fly out that far commercially. That's another revenue stream. And so had these ideas about how to diversify and build a more robust, modern aerospace company, that could serve as a national asset that is important for the United States to have. And so how do I build all that in? The choice was go public and let more of the world see what we're trying to do and why, in the interest of the United States and all of humanity around the world. So that was the motivation behind it. It wasn't just capital driven because it was the worst time to do a de-SPAC. It was, they said, oh, this is the last space SPAC you'll see. You know what they said after we went public? It's the last best SPAC as our stocks shot up.

c: So part of the IPO is just to raise awareness about space exploration, besides of course the funding and everything that you get from that.

s: Yeah. It was, it really was. I wanted more people paying attention and as a result they are, you know, um, they can watch it, they can get engaged, they can participate with us. So it was one way to do more of democratization of space. You know, we just get it to more retail investors and the retail investors seem to like us. We had such a headstart on the moon, 50 years, right? And now all of a sudden we're worried about China, right? I mean, we could have owned it, right? And..

c: Any thoughts on why Moon hasn't been important? Because for me, from the outside, I would think, well, if we're trying to practice and learn more about harsh environments and living on a place that's not the Earth, why not do it somewhere that's relatively easier to get to versus Mars? Right?

s: Right.

c: And that why hasn't that been something of interest to NASA in the past?

s: I've given that some thought. I think. You know, it was, what was fantastic and also hard was during the Apollo program, which included Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, there was a national imperative, a security imperative that said, we are in a Cold War, and let's put the whole power of the nation towards this goal of landing a human on the Moon in a decade. John F. Kennedy's speech at Rice. That was a national imperative. And we did it. Since then, there really has not been a national imperative. It was, hey, let's do some space systems and kind of go along as we can afford it. And you know where you go when you go along as you can afford it, you don't go very far. We've done, there's been competing dollars for a fairly flat appropriations within NASA for competing dollars for planetary science, for human space flight, for heliophysics, for um, um, aero, aerosciences or aerodynamics, um, all of the competing dollars is spread around like peanut butter. I think what's changed now is there's a new national imperative. And the National Space Council or Security Council that said Moon is of strategic interest says what? The United States must spend dollars to, to, to build a sustainable presence on the Moon. As soon as that happened and they opened it up to commercial business, now you get the competing companies innovating, right? Give us the ball, we'll run with it. We'll take on a technical challenge that's over constrained schedule wise. It doesn't have enough dollars with it. We'll take the risk, we'll leverage private capital and extend the public dollar. And that's what's happened. In 2018, when we started to go to the, to think about going to the Moon as a company, Intuitive Machines, there were zero lunar landers being built in the United States. Today there's over a dozen.

c: Mmm

s: Isn't that amazing?

c: That is amazing.

s: That instigation, that little bit of funding from the federal dollar has really brought to life what the power of the U S economy is and all those constraints drive innovation, create inventions, you know, force you to solve problems when you're hit with a roadblock. You can't, you can't just go back to the well for more money. You've got to solve that problem.

c: There seemed to be like a shift between, you know, in the past, 50 years ago, government had to do the whole thing. And at some point someone realized, well, government could be more of an enabler, right, and enable companies like SpaceX and Intuitive Machines and kind of be a gateway and allow that collaboration and innovation and entrepreneurial spirit really to grow and blossom, but I don't know exactly at what point that happened or changed. Did you see anything there? Like what was the shift there where they're like, hey, this might be a better idea? Because there was a lot of resistance to SpaceX. You know, I mean, and Elon's talked about that in the past, but I mean, I think that it really was a breakthrough and an opportunity for other businesses to do the same thing.

s: Yeah, I think the change occurred, you know, you saw in the Apollo program, the Cold War-driven programs built, monolithic programs built by governments. And then you saw a shift from there to the next logical step was, can we do international cooperation? And you came up with something that was wonderful, was the International Space Station. Right? Almost won a Nobel Peace Prize in and of itself for putting all these countries together that build a place to live and work in space in harmony. Right? But that was still arm's length, where you build a module, I'll build a module, we'll identify the interface and we'll bolt them together. It was not fully integrated spacecraft among the international partners. Well, now you see when SpaceX came in and others, even Boeing, Starliner and Northrop or orbitals, cargo resupply, you start to see the commercial company coming on strong and building some capability and say, wait a minute, the days where we're in this flat spot, you know I talked about national imperative, well then we got into a period where we got comfortable with big aerospace, getting cost plus award fee contracts to keep a program sold across administrations. Because if they go four years and get cut and you start again four years and get cut.

c: Which is what was happening back in my day.

s: Exactly, right. In 23 programs canceled in 25 years. Some metric like that in the 2000s,

c: It's crazy.

s: Right.

c: Talk about killing innovation.

s: So now you say, okay, that was to keep them sold because we really didn't have an imperative. Now, when you see the success of things like the commercial cargo program, when it started, it was visceral reaction to commercial in the beginning, like you say. Then as success came on, well, let's try this. You get more for your buck. Commercial cargo to resupply International Space Station commercially, commercial crew to resupply with, get off of the Soyuz and have commercial companies do it. Hey, there's something to this. And that's what's changed. And now if somebody and the person or organization that actually embraced this, because there was such a negative reaction, was the head of science, science mission director, who looked back at human space flight and said, let's do science missions where I can get more science if I let the commercial sector build the infrastructure. That turned just like that and that happened, started in 2017 and 2018 and that's where the CLPS program came from. Now the CLPS program and NASA will serve several mission directorates, technology, the science, the human space flight, all of them because this is such an efficient way to go do things.

c: So more collaboration between government and corporate and business.

s: That's right, that's right. And we'll take risk as a business and compete. And because of this risk we're taking, we have to innovate. And I think we're getting some, you know, just fantastic capability in this country as a result of it.

c: And there's still one missing piece, which is funding.

s: Nice segue.

c: Tell me a little bit about that.

s: Yeah. Funding has been difficult. You know, macroeconomics, if you look at the markets today or such that, you know, it's tough to raise capital in these markets. Inflation, threat of recession, interest rates going up. You know, there's dry powder sitting on the sides that... and then we saw a few large investments in aerospace just fail. And so there's a little bit of skittishness there. So it's been tough from a standpoint of, you know, you look at how all the SPACs have performed in space, aerospace SPACs. You look at where private equity investments are coming more and more going overseas to look for overseas money. Right. So time is tough. I think if I bring it back, um, locally here, you know, we had trouble in the early days of the company trying to raise money in Texas, in Houston..

c: for space..

s: for space; in space city, you can't raise capital for space, why was that? And so I'm pretty outspoken these days about what would make the space economy grow exponentially in Houston and in Texas. Which Texas is doing some amazing, innovative things all over Texas for space that I don't know people have all connected those dots. We got the Starship down at Boca Chica. We've got engine testing going to McGregor. We've got lunar landers going to Spaceport Houston. We've got commercial stations. We've got spacesuits all at the Spaceport Houston, just amazing things going on. But when you go into Houston and you say, hey, I want to raise capital for space, they're like, hold on, hold on, hold on. We formed this company, this city on oil and gas. Wildcatters made their money and now their grandchildren are stewards of that money. And that money goes into shopping malls and things that keep that fortune preserved. Where's the wildcat spirit, right, that's needed for space exploration? And I think it's up to us as entrepreneurs and as leaders in the space community, kind of find a language that resonates with investors and create our own financial models in the city of Houston that says, let's bring this money to bear in a way that can actually grow space, commercial space, manufacturing for aerospace here in the city and this state. What's been great, I attended a thought leaders exercise down in downtown this morning. And you know, there's been now the space commission by the state that's well-funded, that's looking for where should we deploy that capital. That's supported by our senators. You see Johnson Space Center with the Artemis program, and you see commercial startups at the spaceport, and you have Bay Area Economic Partnership, Greater Houston Partnership, Rice University, the ION, have all these different entities that are all looking for economic development. We have the funds, we have the purpose, we have the mission. What we need to do is find a way to bring that capital here. I think this city, I studied entrepreneurship a little bit in Silicon Valley. A lot of people come and wanna think about entrepreneurship in Houston and they wanna replicate a model, like Silicon Valley. No, no, no, no, no. Houston has its own identity. Where else can you build a large business? Where else do you have C-suite talent that could come lead a large business? You have managerial level that are exceptional at leading large teams, and you have doctors and lawyers and physicists and astronauts and geologists and chemists and all the people you need here. It's just a recipe for success. If we could just get a focus on bringing the right venture capital, bringing the right private equity capital, and maybe that's, you know, I'd like to also bring the right legal, what do you call it, policy, legal, regulatory piece in the space city, you know, into the Texas area where we own that, right, treaties, policy. That doesn't have to be in Washington. That can start here and be incubated and to benefit all of the space economy.

c: Well, tell me a little bit about your next milestone for Intuitive Machines. You have something called a Super Bad. And I want to know more about what that is.

s: Super Bab. That's the Super Badass Building.

c: Okay.

s: That's, you know, Jack Fisher. He's our resident astronaut and wizard of just about anything he puts his mind to. And named it the Super Badass Building. What we did was we created, we worked really hard to help the city, to help the airport authority, to help Mario Diaz and Arturo Machuca create Spaceport Houston at Ellington Airport by putting together, you know, we're going to build spaceflight hardware at Ellington in your envisioned spaceport. And there was an old building there that used to be a Boeing building where they build docking systems and crew capsules and stuff. And they vacated that building and it became like the first real spaceport building. It was underneath a new roof and everything, a leaky building. So I need a place to grow the company and to do manufacturing and to make things, all the things that are in our imagination we wanted to make. And it's making real space stuff. So could we get any incentives from the city in the Houston airport system. At the same time San Jacinto Community College was saying we need a space, we want to grow a track to train aerospace technicians and engineers. And they did that in the petrochem area and they did that in several different areas at San Jacinto. They've been successful at creating these institutes and so they came up with the Edge Center. And so we went into this one building together between San Jacinto and Intuitive Machines. And we started working, and I talked about this a little bit. I joined their advisory board and I helped them create with the industry advisory board, this tract for retooling oil and gas people and taking graduates from high school and putting them into technician certification programs. How do you become a machinist? How do you do harnesses? electrical harnesses, electronics, what do you do with composites, you know, and then we get a certificate. And then I would as Intuitive Machines, give them internships, and then jobs. And it was onesie twosies, it was a few. But we were building spaceflight hardware, we were training a workforce, and we're giving them jobs. And there was a facility there. And I think that became the engine that said, this is the first step to a really, a real functioning spaceport in a metropolis, which everybody thinks as a launch port. Marietas and Arturo had a different view of what a spaceport could be. It's a hub for R&D, for collaboration, where universities and companies come together and socialize and do business together. So as a result of that, they opened up a tract of the first 90 acres, and they have 400 acres to expand, and through working with the Bay Area Economic Partnership and Greater Houston Partnership and others, they've been, and the city and the city council and the mayor, [able] to create incentives for companies to move in. And what really inspired them is they offered that to other companies who then said, no, you don't quite have the workforce or no, you're not quite big enough. We said we want to go in there, Collins said, we want to go in there. Axiom said, we want to go in there. And so we negotiated some incentives and came out with a building, 110,000 square foot custom-built building for Intuitive Machines that has office space. It has lab space. It has high base space and cranes to move our landers and spacecraft around. And we're getting ready for ribbon cutting on September 29th where the building is essentially complete. Mostly, I mean we're going to get a temporary certificate of occupancy to start moving in. But the building's got there and we'll do our first mission from the old building and the mission control from here. But after that, we're moving the whole company into this building. It's so exciting. It's just the next level of growth on the horizon for Intuitive Machines.

c: Wow, congratulations.

s: Thank you.

c: If it's open to the public, I'd like to go. (laughing)

s: (laughing) I'll show you. It's not open to the public but I'll take you on a..

c: I want to go to the ribbon cutting.

All right. Well, good. Well, Steve, this has been super interesting. I'm really impressed with what you're trying to do and want to continue to help supporting you in whatever way we can to do that. I've got my space shuttle socks on today in honor of my intern days at IBM and NASA, and I have some socks for you today.

s: Awesome.

c: You know, I don't know. So obviously space related.

s: Excellent.

c: So a few more planets than the moon, but we'll get there someday, right?

s: Hey, well, my new vision is to move out into the solar system beyond the Moon and I'll wear my socks for that. Maybe I'll wear these on launch day too. Thank you for that. Chris, I really appreciate the time.

c: Thanks for being on the show.


Ref: https://youtu.be/SoL7yYVDdsg?si=ZYKYgJKufsJU4yqI

March 2, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Intuitive Machine’s Lunar Odyssey with CEO Steve Altemus 3/1/24 Manifest Space with Morgan Brennan -> Transcript

Intuitive Machines made history, becoming the first company to successfully land a private spacecraft on the Moon. The IM-1 mission carried out as a part of a NASA program was not without drama though. After a successful SpaceX launch on February 15th and stock surge, Odysseus made a nail biting landing a week later. Then came the disclosure, it had tipped on its side. Shares plunged, as on Monday, the warning came that the mission would be cut short. But that didn't happen. On Wednesday, the lander was still active and NASA hailed it a success. Then last night, Odysseus went to sleep as the harsh lunar night set in. The stock is now higher over the past month, but it's down big after tripling halfway through the mission. CEO and co-founder Steve Altemus says he's now fielding calls from prospective new customers for Intuitive Machines, including Japan, Australia and some European and Middle Eastern countries.

There's also been an outpouring of interest in terms of sponsorships and people who want to put their name in the history books on the Moon. So I'm interested in seeing how those take shape also.

Sponsorships? What does that mean? What does that look like?

Well, I know we've had this wonderful sponsorship and relationship with Columbia from Columbia Sportswear and they put a material on the lander, an insulator, and it started as a sponsorship and turned into an engineering demonstration that actually proved out their technology for warm or cold weather gear. And it actually turned out to be a great thermal insulator. So we're gonna move that thermal insulator materials and coatings from Columbia onto the lander to replace some of the materials that we currently use.

After the surprise reawakening of another lunar lander, Japan's SLIM this week, Intuitive Machines now also hopes to have Odysseus, quote unquote, phone home when the Sun rises in the next few weeks. On this episode, a deep dive with Altemus into the mission's twists and turns, what went right, what went wrong, and now what happens next. I'm Morgan Brennan and this is Manifest Space.

Steve Altemus of Intuitive Machines. It's so great to rejoin you now that you have literally made history landing Odysseus on the Moon and carrying out a mission. But there has been, wow, it has been very, as a spectator, it has been quite something to behold over the past week. So maybe we could just start with where we're at right now as Odysseus goes to sleep and you start to assess what's happened in recent days.

Yeah, good to be back, Morgan. Thank you so much. In a whirlwind of 13 days, 14 days now, we launched on February 15 and had a seven-day trip out to the moon. And then 144 hours was our time on the surface of the Moon. We actually got a little more time with Odysseus or Odie on the surface before we put him to bed for the long, cold lunar night. Right now we have all the data back for all the science payloads that we carried, both commercial and NASA payloads. We also now have all the data from our vehicle performance we've got back with pictures. And so we're in the process of doing a reconstruction of the mission where we take all the data, we have it all organized in these data repositories, and then all the systems engineers will come in and start to reconstruct their system performance. And we'll get a good sense of how we did in analyzing our spacecraft performance. The first blush looks like things went extremely well, and the Odie spacecraft really performed above expectations.

Okay. So, and which raises the question, what constitutes success? Because there was a lot of drama earlier this week with the realization that maybe Odie had tipped on its side. Maybe the mission was going to not go for the full amount of time anticipated. That sort of reversed itself, at least in terms of the time. So what does constitute success?

Well, unequivocally unqualified, this is an enormous success. Um, 100%. You know, we gave everything to this mission, both as an engineering team and an operations team and the spacecraft, gave everything to get to the Moon and return all the data that we could get out of the spacecraft. You know, when we do this, there has never been a perfect space mission where there were no anomalies or problems, I think, in the history of space. There's always something to work [on]. And to have a robotic spacecraft that we developed at the price point we developed it, make it to the Moon on our first try, our very first try with a brand new spacecraft as a brand new company and put it on the Moon, is an incredible success. You know, the little bit of tilting that we have in the vehicle due to a broken landing gear was because we hit on a very, a little bit faster than we wanted to and in a very undulating slope. I think it's a 12 degree slope. So that didn't detract at all from the mission. We ended up getting sun, solar power, just like we had planned. We got telemetry and uplink, which is the data flow down and back up to the vehicle to command it. The propulsion system, oh my God, we didn't even talk about that in terms of liquid oxygen/liquid methane brand new propulsion system that we additively manufactured out of high nickel steel, and we tested it on the ground over and over and over for thousands and thousands of seconds. That worked perfectly. The flight control system, perfect. You know, we talked about the little problem we had with the enable switch on the laser reflector or the laser range finders. And that was just a small wire that we failed to put a little circuit in there to disable that switch. And we landed without a laser altimeter. I mean, that's like no altimeter in an airplane. Just think about that. And we landed softly enough to preserve the whole mission. So, just unqualified success, very happy with it.

Which is so fascinating because we're talking about an autonomous robotic lander. And I was reading that you were writing and your team was rewriting algorithms and coding to ensure that that landing was going to happen given the fact that there was that situation with the laser. Is that true?

Oh yeah, absolutely true. We had to rewrite the navigation software application to say, don't read these laser altimeters in the registers. Read these laser beams from the NASA Doppler LIDAR. Rewrite that, and in order to put that up on the spacecraft, we had to shut down the guidance navigation control on the spacecraft completely and then bring it all back up and hope that the control of the spacecraft wasn't lost. And we did that seamlessly on the fly in real time. So that's just a testament to the, just the quality and the dexterity of the operations team and how they could do that in such a short amount of time under incredible pressure. And that agility and resolve and the sense of perseverance to get through this mission is what you need to be successful. And I think, you know, it demonstrates that part of this unqualified success is the learning that we gained in flying a brand new spacecraft in flight all the way to completing the mission. Now that experience is under our belt. We don't have this big missing piece of how things are gonna behave in space. We lived it, we worked it, we solved the problems, and it feels really good to be on the other side of it with a successful mission under our belt.

Now I realize that to your point, you've just gathered all of this data and in many ways the process now of debriefing and kind of dissecting and truly fully deeply assessing everything that's just gone down in the last two weeks will happen now, but given that, I guess, the fact that we're in early stages, what are some of the learnings? What worked better than expected? What works the way it was intended? What didn't? I guess, what would you do differently, especially given the fact that you do have another mission on the books for later this year?

Yes, we have, I've done something in the company to organize us to do this assessment that you're talking about. But we're gonna take the next 30 days. We built the data repository, we put all of the information from the mission in that repository, organized photographs, subsystems, all the files that we've gotten down, all the telemetry. We then take and look at that and reconstruct pieces of the mission by phase, launch vehicle separation, acquisition of signal, commissioning maneuver, trajectory correction maneuvers, lunar orbit insertion, power descent, all of those different phases, and we'll reconstruct them. See what systems performed perfectly or what systems needed some adjustment. And then where are those, the next team will take where those improvements need to be applied to our next mission, our second mission, our third mission and subsequent missions. And where design changes need to be folded into the program. So that is in [the] work[s] and that will take about 30 days. Our initial assessment is that the propulsion system performed perfectly and better than we had anticipated in space. So we were able to auto light the engine and burn the engine up to 13 minutes continuously through over four planned ignitions. And so we did an ignition on the far side of the Moon with no human intervention for power descent. So it was really a testament to that whole system. The flight control, we got that all dialed in and that worked perfectly. The addition of the laser altimeters would have meant we would have touched down even softer in precisely the spot we were looking for. That's the initial reconstruction of the trajectory and the flight control. We did have some components get quite cold. You know, and some of the attitudes that we had to take on the way to the Moon in order to point our antennas back to Earth got some of our reaction control system or attitude control system regulators, which is a valve, cold, that started to see helium. So we'll go look at attitude control and see how we can keep those valves or regulators in the sun a little bit longer. Something else to work out is we had a lunar distance network of ground stations around the world that we went jump to. Every several hours, we'd move around the world with our orbit to move to a different ground station antenna. And we have to make sure that all those ground station antennas have the right configuration, that our technology at the base of those transceivers is all working properly. And we just want to go around and make sure that all of that is in good shape, so make sure that we have seamless communications with the spacecraft throughout the mission. We had a lot of times where the communication was spotty and we would lose it for periods of time. So we'll go back and look at the radios, the antennas, and the ground station communication. I think that's one of the biggest items that we want to make sure works right because if you can't hear the spacecraft and you can't talk to the spacecraft, that means you're probably not going to have a great mission. So that's one thing I'll look at pretty hard. But other than that, spacecraft really performed well and all the systems are up and we're up and working just like intended.


And for our little landing gear that, you know, got a lot of criticism about the spindly landing gear, that exceeded expectations. We landed harder, the neck gear was designed to hold. And so we think we can touch down a lot softer without changing the landing gear, but we'll assess that and make sure that we don't tilt next time.

Okay. I just want to go back to the ground stations for a minute. Are those something that you build in-house and deploy yourself? Or are you working with other companies on it?

We work with other countries and companies that own these large radio astronomy dishes around the world. These are the large parabolic dishes in the UK, in South Africa, in Japan, in Australia, in India and in the United States. And we contract with those and we put our own technology in a baseband unit at the base of the transceiver. And we talk via the transceiver to the baseband unit and back to mission control. All of that string is our commercially provided lunar data network that can communicate out to the moon. And it's the first commercial lunar distance network in the world. And so through our partners in those countries that help us with that, it's just an incredible capability.

So what does all of this mean in terms of I believe what the flight manifests? November for the next mission. Is that correct? Does this change the timeline at all?

Well, I'll tell you something the thing that I realized from this mission, which we flew later than where we had planned in mission one. And if you recall we moved the landing location towards the South Pole region. I think it's more important to land softly than it is to land sooner. And so we're gonna make sure that the vehicle's right and any changes we need to make will then turn around and set a launch date based on reviewing all of the systems data that I just talked about.

Okay. One of the things that I think is most fascinating, it's been such a big week for the Moon because you also had Japan's SLIM lander which sort of reawoke in the sun, much to everybody's surprise, and started communicating back to Earth unexpectedly. The idea that you're gonna quote unquote phone home or attempt to phone home with Odie now that you've put it to sleep when the Sun rises on the Moon again. I guess just walk me through that and the decision to do that and what's at stake if it actually works.

Well, I'll tell you something. The mission, we never planned to wake back up. We've always said when the Sun stops powering the vehicle through the solar panels and it dips below the horizon, the vehicle will freeze over. And that is the planned end of mission. You build the spacecraft, you deploy it. It's supposed to live for a certain amount of hours on the Moon, and it does its job. And then it freezes.Several years from now, we'll have the ability to survive the lunar night, the cold, minus 280 degrees, it gets to 180 degrees Fahrenheit during the cold of night. Maybe we'll survive that. But it's worth trying to see how the batteries, how the electronics, how they will behave if they get frozen down to that temperature and then suddenly get a spark or a power signal from the solar panels and the power control distribution unit to power them back up. Will it wake up? So we set Odie up right before we blasted all the data down to in the last hours of its life. We were gonna send the last bit of data down, the last photographs. We set it up to configure it to wake up. So we put it in a mode that if it gets a signal from the power, from the power control distribution unit, it'll wake up and make sure the antennas are pointed towards Earth, and that it'll take a command from the Earth and be in the right configuration should it get power. So that's the way we left it. We think that's the safest configuration and the most likely if we were to get that charge from the Sun to wake that up and be back in. And if we prove that, boy, we've gone a long way in proving some of the components robustness like lithium ion batteries that can survive a chill to that temperature and then come back up, a flight computer that could be chilled that hard and not break a solder joint or a card inside. That's just a really nice piece of data. So it's gravy on top of a successful mission, is kind of the way I look at it.

You just mentioned the fact that maybe this is not gonna be the dynamic dealing with lunar night in a couple of years. I spoke to Zeno power. I wonder if that's what you're referencing, the fact that this idea that maybe we see RPSs implemented on future vehicles or if it's something else.

We know Zeno, they're a good partner of ours. We work with them to try to develop this survive the night technology. And so the key is gonna be, you know, radio or isotope thermal generators, RTG type units that can produce a little heat. And if we focus that heat on the batteries or the flight computer and distribute it properly, we could survive the night. And so we just have to work on that project. It's always 30 months away or so. So we have to put a little energy into it to get to that point.

Got it. Okay, so we know what's next in the immediate future for Intuitive Machines as you now go through and assess this mission, maybe in two weeks. If things go really unexpectedly well, even see Odie come back to life potentially, what happens then? I guess how to think about the medium term and the longer term.

Yeah, I'll tell you, we have three missions planned, indicating late in 2024, early in 2025, is kind of a thought process now while we do this review. But as we get more interest, as we've landed on the Moon, there's been some companies and governments calling and looking for proposals to fly their equipment to the Moon. We're gonna be thinking hard about building the next category of lander to take more and more payloads and cargo to the moon. We call that Nova-D. It's the next scaled up version of this lander. So we'll fly this lander at least three times, this version, but maybe we're gonna start with taking heavier cargo up to a metric ton to the surface. And that's in our near term future.

Have you been fielding calls from potential customers here in these last couple of weeks amid everything that's been going on in the milestones?

Oh yes, oh yes. There's European countries and the European Space Agency are very excited about our mission, the Japanese, some of the countries in the Middle East and Australia. There's just a lot of interest in what's next and what can we do together. And so we'll continue to talk with them and kind of refine what their needs are and how we can respond. There's also been an outpouring of interest in terms of sponsorships and people who want to put their name in the history books on the Moon. So I'm interested in seeing how those take shape also.

What does that mean? What does that look like?

Well, I know we've had this wonderful sponsorship and relationship with Columbia from Columbia Sportswear and, you know, they put a material on the lander, an insulator, and, you know, we started as a sponsorship and turned into an engineering demonstration that actually proved out their technology for warm or cold weather gear, and it actually turned out to be a great thing, thermal insulator. So we're going to move that thermal insulator materials and coatings from Columbia onto the lander to replace some of the materials that we currently use. So that's kind of an idea. And when people see that there's other walks of life or other industries that can benefit from space, suddenly that crossover becomes attractive and we can talk about how we might help each other as businesses going forward.

Oh, that's so fascinating. OK, so I just have to ask, what has the feedback been regarding the payloads, whether it's NASA, which I know you've been doing some joint press conferences with, or some of these commercial customers, like Columbia, like some of the others. I realize maybe more art related with like Coons, for example. But what is the feedback then?

Oh, the feedback has been wonderful. We were able to, by using some of the NASA payloads in line for operations of the mission, we were able to advance their technology readiness to 9, you know, TRL 9. So their operational grade now, they've worked in the exact environment where they were designed for. So the LN1 payload was a navigation payload that used the RF spectrum. That worked in line to help us with orbit determination, the NDL, the NASA Doppler LIDAR, tracked our trajectory from power descent all the way to the surface precisely. And that data looks really good. So that's now TRL level 9. And the mass gauging to tell what our propellant tank quantity was, it was called the RFMG. That was out of Glenn Research Center. And that worked perfectly from on the launch pad all the way through end of mission. And that now can serve for any future cryogenic missions in space. So those were wonderful examples of successes from Langley Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center, and Glenn Research Center. The other ones is, you know, I talked about Columbia and how successful that's been. It was wonderful to see they put a commercial on the sphere in Las Vegas, and that was pretty exciting to get everybody excited about our mission. We've seen the ArtCube from Jeff Koons and Pace Galleries be successful. And a Hawaiian nonprofit company called ILOA. We flew a camera and took amazing pictures looking away from the lander at the surface. And we just, you know, when people see what the surface looked like on what we tried to land on, it is just rocky and craggy and full of craters. And it only gets more complex as we move towards the exact precise South Pole in Shackleton Ridge on our second mission. So overall, everybody was happy. The students from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University who built the EagleCam, oh my goodness, they're now seasoned veterans of space flight where they built a small canister that deployed a camera to the surface. While that camera didn't send an image back to the lander and we didn't get it back to Earth, they successfully built and tested their first piece of flight hardware and we ejected the camera on the last day of the mission and it worked. The camera didn't get an image, but that whole system seemed to work. And so I'm very proud of those students and faculty from Embry-Riddle. So it's just been a wonderful mission for everybody involved and we're happy that it was so successful and we could deliver the service. Well, Steve Altemus, CEO of Intuitive Machines, congratulations on making history and on the success of IM-1. Thank you. Thank you, Morgan. I appreciate seeing you again.

That does it for this episode of Manifest Space. Make sure you never miss a launch by following us wherever you get your podcasts and by watching our coverage on Closing Bell Overtime. I'm Morgan Brennan.

Ref: https://podcasts.apple.com/gb/podcast/manifest-space-with-morgan-brennan/id1680523433?i=1000647715331



March 2, 2024 | Permalink | Comments (0)