Skip to main content

With Intuitive Machines’ mission cut short, when is the next lunar landing?

Performing a controlled, soft landing on the moon isn’t easy. Three missions attempted to reach our nearest neighbor in recent weeks. Two of the landers — one from Japan’s space agency and another from Texas-based Intuitive Machines — touched down on the lunar surface but toppled over, creating challenges for their respective mission operators. A third moon-bound mission, from Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, suffered a propellant leak shortly after launch that prevented it from even attempting a landing.

The most recent visit, by Intuitive Machines, made history on February 22 when it became the first commercial company to achieve a soft lunar touchdown in a mission that was also the first U.S. lunar landing in more than 50 years.

But as the Intuitive Machines’ Odysseus lander touched down, it fell onto its side. While some communication with Odysseus has been possible, its awkward position has made it difficult for its solar panels to receive sunlight. The lack of power means the mission will end any day now, earlier than expected.

Meanwhile, Japan’s SLIM lander surprised its team earlier this week when it woke up from a two-week lunar night. But SLIM also failed to land upright, creating challenges for the mission team.

It means that attention will soon turn toward future moon missions that plan to set down a lander. The next one will be a Chinese effort, Chang’e 6, expected to launch aboard a Long March 5 heavy-lift rocket in May. China has a 100% record with its three previous landing efforts, which took place in 2013, 2019, and 2020, so hopes are high that it can succeed in its next moon mission, too.

After that, in the final quarter of the year, there’ll be a string of U.S. landing attempts that include NASA’s VIPER mission, Firefly’s Blue Ghost mission, Astrobotic’s Griffin mission, and Intuitive Machines’ IM-2 mission. The flurry of activity is linked to NASA’s Artemis program, which involves private firms taking science and technology payloads to the lunar South Pole ahead of a highly anticipated crewed landing currently scheduled for 2026.

Japan’s ispace, another private company that failed in its first effort to put a lander on the moon in 2023, will also try again in the Hakuto-R Mission 2 toward the end of this year.

For those fascinated by lunar exploration and keen to learn more about our constant celestial companion, there’s certainly plenty to look forward to over the coming months.

Editors' Recommendations

Trevor Mogg
Contributing Editor
Not so many moons ago, Trevor moved from one tea-loving island nation that drives on the left (Britain) to another (Japan)…
Japan’s SLIM lunar lander is back in contact following blackout
A computer-generated image showing Japan's SLIM lander on the lunar surface.

A computer-generated image showing SLIM in its landing position on the lunar surface. JAXA

Japan’s lunar lander is back in touch with its team on Earth after regaining power via its solar panels.

Read more
Can this private U.S. lunar mission succeed where others have failed?
The Nova-C lunar lander at Intuitive Machines’ headquarters in Houston.

The Nova-C lunar lander at Intuitive Machines’ headquarters in Houston. It’s since been shipped to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for integration with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for launch as part of NASA’s CLPS initiative and Artemis campaign. Intuitive Machines

Only five countries have achieved a controlled, soft landing on the moon, but none of them have been commercial missions.

Read more
NASA confirms burn-up date for failed Peregrine spacecraft
Astrobotic's Peregrine lander.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine spacecraft will burn up in Earth’s atmosphere on Thursday, January 18, NASA has confirmed.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic said earlier in the week that the burn-up of the Peregrine spacecraft, which is about the size of a storage shed, posed no safety risks and will remove from orbit what would otherwise become a piece of hazardous space junk.

Read more