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'The leader in the space race': Intuitive Machines breaks ground on new lunar production, operations

Intuitive Machines, the Clear Lake company that will make history when it sends a lander to the moon in early 2022, broke ground on its new lunar production and operations center at the Houston Spaceport at Ellington Airport on Dec. 2.

Read the full story from Community Impact here.

The company will become the first-ever private company to travel to the moon—cementing Houston as a powerful player in the rapidly expanding aerospace industry, according to local elected officials and space industry experts. IM is the spaceport’s first tenant.

“This groundbreaking ceremony further propels Houston as the leader in the space race to the moon and beyond,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said at the groundbreaking event Dec. 2. “Our great city is known for taking on humankind’s boldest challenges, and Houston’s own Intuitive Machines will be the first private company in the history of humankind to put a lunar lander on the moon.”

The center will span across about 12.5 acres and have more than 125,000 square feet of office and advanced production space, according to IM’s press kit. Other features will include tiered storage, an advanced loading doc, and a production area with 45-foot ceilings and cranes that will be capable of handling all Nova Lunar Lander designs.

The moon landing in the first quarter of 2022 will commence an annual launch cadence delivering both NASA and commercial payloads on and around the moon. This landing will be the United States’ first return to the moon in nearly half a century, Turner said Dec. 2.

“Here in Houston, we will cheer like no other city in the nation, because we will celebrate the fact that it was the minds and the hands of the people of this city who made it happen,” he said. “Make no mistake about it, the world is on the cusp of an aerospace craze. Innovation and technology will drive Houston’s economy forward, and the aerospace industry will be a key part of that.”

The Commercial Lunar Payload Services payloads will be incorporated into the IM-3 commercial mission and fly onboard a Nova-C lunar lander, Community Impact Newspaper previously reported. Five CLPS missions to the lunar surface have been awarded to take place over the next three years, and IM has been awarded three of those missions.

The company, which has an office on Bay Area Boulevard, has created several lander vehicles. Its largest lander, the Nova-M, is capable of carrying a total 5,000 kilograms of payload to the lunar surface, per the press kit.

Starting in 2023, IM will transition from its current spaceport facility into the new building, where staff will build, command and communicate with more hardware that will go to the moon, per the press kit. The expansion project, anticipated to cost no more than $40 million, is driven by demand for the company's complete lunar program, from moon lander to deep-space communications.

Along with Turner, local industry leaders expressed optimism about the potential for aerospace growth in southeast Houston at the Dec. 2 event. Turner shared the podium with IM’s President and CEO Steve Altemus as well as Arturo Machuca, general manager of Ellington Airport and the Houston Spaceport; all three said the local aerospace industry is composed of workers with the necessary passion, talent and drive to make a lasting legacy on the lunar surface.

“These are intrepid spirits, seeking victory over things that others see as impossible,” Altemus said of IM’s mechanics. “The time has come for the next phase of Intuitive Machines, where we turn our mechanics loose with the tools, and the space and the resources they need to change the world.”

The U.S., China and Russia are the only countries to ever land on the moon. IM will add to that narrative when it lands next year, thanks to the work of the 150 mechanics taking part in something bigger than themselves, Altemus said.

Houston is already home to nearly 1,500 aerospace manufacturing professionals, and more than 250 aerospace companies and institutions, Turner said, and the spaceport’s three anchor tenants—IM, Axiom and Collins Aerospace—will add nearly 1,500 jobs.

Machuca thanked San Jacinto College in particular for their work at the Edge Center, developing future talent and funneling those workers into spaceport jobs. The spaceport also engages with other Houston-area universities, including the University of Houston-Clear Lake, to expand career training and build the local workforce, he said.

“These are truly exciting times, and there is no limit to what we can achieve at the Houston Spaceport,” Machuca said.


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