'Hygienic Hot Fire Operation' Continues CLPS Moon Lander Progress

Press Release From: Intuitive Machines, LLC
Posted: Monday, April 20, 2020

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) situation evolves across the country, Intuitive Machines remains focused on protecting the health and safety of its team members while honoring its commitment to NASA and its private Lunar payload customers.

“As COVID-19 tests our nation’s resolve, it’s also testing the resiliency of many people and private businesses, and this holds strikingly true at Intuitive Machines,” said Steve Altemus, President and CEO of Intuitive Machines. “The health and safety of our co-workers, their families and friends remain our top priority. I am humbled by the support and compassion our team members have for each other and the hard work they’ve put forth to change how we work in order to keep the mission moving forward.”

On April 14, 2020, Intuitive Machines successfully conducted a ‘Hygienic Hot Fire Operation’. Nova-C’s VR700 was run through 17 main stage tests including a new igniter and refined manufacturing process developed for our VR3500 engine which set the endurance record on Marshall Space Flight Center’s Test Stand 115.

Intuitive Machines’ activities under NASA contracts are in support of a critical aeronautical and space activity required for the general welfare and security of the United States. Intuitive Machines is closely following the Harris County “Stay Home - Work Safe” guidelines by working remotely from their homes or providing for alternate work arrangements for essential workers.

“While we strongly encourage remote work, there is a continuing need for production and manufacturing engineers and technicians to perform welding, machining, assembly, and testing tasks onsite at our development facility in Houston, TX,” said Altemus.

Before critical engine testing could continue, Intuitive Machines had to change its approach to managing the test and had to come up with safe alternate work arrangements until the COVID-19 social distancing guidelines are lifted. So, on April 7, 2020, Intuitive Machines employees conducted a Test Readiness Review with the primary focus of how to conduct ‘Hygienic Hot Fire Operations’ under COVID-19 guidelines. Some examples of the precautions and configuration changes for Mobile Test Stand (MTS) hot fire testing included:

  • Limiting the total number of crew members to a maximum of eight

  • Limiting the number of crew members on the MTS or gathered around any portion of the

    MTS to two

  • Equipping the entire test team with Proper Protective Equipment including masks

  • Providing hand sanitizer and hand-washing stations at the test site

  • Maintaining at least six feet of separation distance as much as practicable

  • Not sharing ice chests for water and food storage

  • Driving separately to and from the test fire location

  • Sanitizing all surfaces inside the Command Trailer before and after testing

  • Sanitizing all MTS tools and equipment before and after the test

  • Participation in the test was off limits to those who were in more frequent contact with COVID-19 risk groups 

"This test demonstrates the refinement of our manufacturing process on the VR3500 engines applied to the smaller VR700 we will use on Nova-C," said Dr. Tim Crain, VP of Research and Development and Hot Fire 29 Test Conductor. "With our process we can iterate on very small changes in the engine design very quickly and at a very low cost."

“I am grateful for our first responders and healthcare professionals on the front lines fighting to contain the virus and help patients with COVID-19,” said Altemus. “Furthermore, I’m thankful for our team members who continue to forge ahead with innovation while making health and safety their top priority.”

Nova-C, the first lander wholly developed by a private company, will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Pad 39A at the NASA Kennedy Space Center. The launch is nominally scheduled for October 11, 2021 with multiple subsequent launch opportunities. Nova-C will deliver commercial cargo and five NASA-provided payloads to an area in Oceanus Procellarum near Vallis Schröteri. These payloads will conduct scientific research and technology demonstrations as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, in preparation for sending astronauts back to the Moon in 2024.

About Intuitive Machines

Founded in 2013, Intuitive Machines was formed from practical experience in large complex space systems development. The people of Intuitive Machines blend deep technical knowledge with practices honed over 40 years of human spaceflight; practices in risk-based decision- making, redundancy management, fault tolerance and isolation, safety, reliability, maintainability, verification testing, and operations. 


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