SpaceX delays launch of private Intuitive Machines moon lander due to methane fuel issue

 A white and black rocket on the launch pad with the crescent moon in the night sky.
A white and black rocket on the launch pad with the crescent moon in the night sky.

SpaceX postponed the launch of a private moon lander built by Intuitive Machines late Tuesday (Feb. 13) due to a temperature issue with the spacecraft's liquid methane fuel.

The Odysseus moon lander was originally scheduled to launch toward the moon on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the early-morning hours Wednesday (Feb. 14) from Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Liftoff is now set for no earlier than Thursday (Feb. 15) at 1:05 a.m. EST (0605 GMT).

Related: How to watch SpaceX's Intuitive Machines moon lander launch

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"Standing down from tonight's attempt due to off-nominal methane temperatures prior to stepping into methane load," SpaceX wrote in a late-night update on X (formerly Twitter).

Intuitive Machines' Odysseus moon lander uses liquid methane as propellant to fuel its propulsion and landing systems. That propellant is scheduled to be loaded into the lander shortly before launch. It was during those preparations that SpaceX detected "improper methane temperatures," NASA wrote in an update.

Odysseus will carry six NASA instruments to the moon, along with a half-dozen commercial payloads.

SpaceX and Intuitive Machines have a three-day window from Feb. 14 to Feb. 16 in which to launch the Odysseus moon lander and still land on the moon on Feb. 22. After that, the next launch attempt could slip to March. The mission, called IM-1, is Intuitive Machines' first attempt to land on the moon and is aiming for a crater near the lunar south pole.

Intuitive Machines moon lander Im-1 sits between its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket fairing ahead of launch
Intuitive Machines moon lander Im-1 sits between its SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket fairing ahead of launch

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Massive 'lighthouses' on the moon could light the way for future lunar astronauts

If successful, IM-1 will mark the first-ever private mission to land on the moon. It will also be the first U.S. lunar landing since 1972, which was carried out by NASA's Apollo 17 astronauts. IM-1 is the second mission for NASA under the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which uses private spacecraft to deliver experiments to the moon.

Another private company, Intuitive Machines rival Astrobotic, failed in an attempt to send its Peregrine lander to the lunar surface last month. That mission launched on Jan. 8 atop a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket but suffered a fuel leak in flight that made a landing attempt impossible. Instead, the Peregrine lander looped around the moon and returned to Earth, burning up in our planet's atmosphere.

Scientists with NASA and Intuitive Machines hope Odysseus will succeed where Peregrine failed. The spacecraft is carrying novel technology experiments, cameras and other gear that will help NASA better prepare for future Artemis astronaut missions to the moon.

Editor's note: You can watch SpaceX's Odysseus IM-1 moon lander launch for Intuitive Machines and NASA live online on Feb. 15. NASA's webcast will begin at 12:20 a.m. EST (0520 GMT).