Houston-based Intuitive Machines (IM) is a premier provider and supplier of space products and services enabling sustainable exploration of the Moon, Mars and beyond. In 2021, IM completed construction of its Nova Control, a state-of-the-art mission control center in Houston that will track and support a series of three upcoming missions to the moon (IM-1, IM-2 and IM-3), beginning in early 2022. Since completing Nova Control, IM has been conducting successful lunar landing simulations and mission control testing, making its Lunar Telemetry and Tracking Network (LTN) the first-ever validated commercial lunar distance communications network. Intuitive Machine’s LTN uses Clear-Com®’s Eclipse® HX Digital Matrix, V-Series Panels, Agent-IC® Mobile App and most recently, Station-IC™ Virtual Desktop Client, to enable communications between ground teams responsible for tracking, telemetry and support for cis-lunar* space travel, landing and exploration.
Since completing Nova Control, IM has been running countless simulations of different essential points in the mission-critical burn, landing, surface operations and more—to exercise flight control teams and ground control teams for the safest possible mission. All communications for these simulations are done using their Clear-Com infrastructure.
“The testing and simulations we do validate our Lunar Telemetry and Tracking Network and mitigate possible risks in our upcoming IM missions,” explained Dr. Troy Leblanc, VP of Control Centers for IM. “We rely on our voice communications to ensure these pre-mission activities are successful so that we can guarantee our mission will be successful.”
The LTN now consists of Nova Control in Houston, where the Eclipse Median Frame and 14 V-Series Panels are located, one V-Series panel that is placed with IM’s launch team at SpaceX’s facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Goonhilly Earth Station (GES) in the UK using Agent-IC, and the CSIRO Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, using the new Station-IC Virtual Desktop Client.
The network also includes various NASA research centers and space flight centers connected over Agent-IC, and participating commercial payload customers, including Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, the International Lunar Observatory Association in Hawaii, Louisiana State University, and Moorhead State University in Kentucky, who will also be using Agent-IC to listen to and monitor mission activities.
“With Eclipse, V-Series Panels, Agent-IC, and Station-IC it was simple to facilitate a wide variety of local and remote communications needs, all managed through the EHX Software,” said Brian Mader, Mission Operations for Intuitive Machines.
In December of 2021, Intuitive Machines conducted its first “live-sky” test, where GES’ deep space antenna received a signal from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) INTEGRAL spacecraft en route to the moon, and successfully communicated the data back to Nova Control in Texas. This success of this test marked Intuitive Machine’s LTN as the first commercial lunar distance communications network validated in space.
“With a cohesive communications platform managing terrestrial comms, our teams and other invested parties can communicate seamlessly around the world, bringing us one step closer to the moon,” Mader concluded.
Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C spacecraft will be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket to conduct first-of-its-kind lunar research and exploration of the Moon’s surface in early 2022.
*Cis-lunar: between the Earth and the Moon or within the Moon’s orbit.