A SpaceX rocket successfully took off on Thursday (15 February), carrying the Nova-C spacecraft developed by Houston-based Intuitive Machines, on a groundbreaking mission to break the 50-year hiatus for successful US lunar landings.

The Nova-C is set to touch down on the lunar surface’s south side on 22 February.

Intuitive Machines hopes to be the first to land a privately built spacecraft intact on the lunar surface – a title that has eluded numerous companies and nonprofits in recent years.

Until now, lunar landings were predominantly orchestrated by governments with substantial financial investments.

The US has not achieved a successful lunar landing since 1972 when a spacecraft touched down in one piece. Previous attempts by commercial entities faced significant challenges.

Both Israeli and Japanese groups successfully launched spacecraft to the moon, but unfortunately, these missions ended in failure upon landing.

In January, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, a competitor to Intuitive Machines, encountered an engine failure during its moon-bound spacecraft launch, rendering a landing attempt impossible.

The Nova-C spacecraft carries significant payloads for NASA and commercial purposes, with a contract valued at around $100m.

This contract, awarded by NASA in 2019, is part of a program aiming to accelerate the development of commercial robotic lunar landers capable of transporting NASA materials to the moon.

Intuitive Machines, which went public in 2022 through a blank-check deal, valued the company at over $1bn. As of current market data compiled by Bloomberg, its market capitalisation stands at around $481m.

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In addition to its lunar landing ambitions, the company plans to establish a satellite constellation orbiting the moon for communication and navigation purposes, alongside the development of other lunar space technologies.

GlobalData’s Thematic Intelligence: The Space Economy report puts the value of the industry in 2022 at $450bn and suggests that it will see a compound annual growth rate of between 6% and 10% until 2030 when it could be worth as much as $1trn.

After a record 2021 investment in space startups, 2022 was a much quieter year. The investment outlook in 2022 and 2023 was the toughest period for space startups since the economic crisis in 2008, with rapidly rising US interest rates hitting market momentum, causing asset prices to tumble.