As a premier provider and supplier of space products and services aimed at sustainable exploration of the Moon, Mars, and beyond, Intuitive Machines (IM) has a lot to, quite literally, launch in 2023.
Among its current efforts, the Houston-based space company used its Lunar Telemetry and Tracking Network (LTN) to monitor NASA’s Orion and Artemis spacecraft. The company also looks forward to upcoming missions of its own that will provide payload services to jumpstart the lunar economy, beginning with Mission “IM-1” later this year.
To support all of those initiatives, IM is expanding its command and control facilities through the addition of mission control rooms and increased interconnectivity between sites, while scaling their existing Clear-Com infrastructure to meet all associated communication needs.
One of the major benefits of Clear-Com’s Eclipse® HX Digital Matrix Intercom System is the fact that it’s highly scalable and programmable. To deepen the functionality of its existing Eclipse system, IM added an EHX Analog interface card for local panel connections and a suite of V-Series panels to increase the number of communicating operators on the infrastructure. This provided each operator with the ability to communicate with another, whether local or remote, across up to 96 discreet communication circuits. Additionally, it built on IM’s ability to leverage Clear-Com’s Agent-IC® Mobile App and Station-IC™ Virtual Desktop Client in its Houston headquarters and multiple ground stations across the world.
Clear-Com’s ubiquity in the communications industry, its wide range of industry-proven technology, and the rock-solid support it provides are all qualities with which Brian Mader, Mission Operations Engineer for Intuitive Machines, is intimately familiar. In his previous work at NASA’s Johnson Space Center training astronauts for Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) in NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab, he says there was an extensive deployment of Clear-Com equipment. “As an instructor, I used it constantly,” he explains, “and that’s where I experienced Clear-Com technology being used and integrated on a facility-wide scale.”
“Intuitive Machines is part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative (part of the Artemis program), which is laying the foundation with scientific experiments and demonstration of the technologies necessary for the human return to the Moon,” explains Josh Marshall, IM’s Head of PR, adding that IM’s missions will conduct critical experiments ahead of Artemis III, NASA’s first crewed lunar surface mission in decades. “In laying the foundation for humans to return to the Moon, certain things have to exist to support that effort, including assets on Earth to support communications in space.”
Intuitive and highly flexible intercom solutions – for voice communication between IM's primary command and control center, Nova Control, several newly added control rooms, ground stations and a variety of payload customers across the world – are integral to the eventual establishment of a sustainable lunar presence. So, too, is the ability to add to and integrate additional comms infrastructure into those systems at will and has been since IM began operations. “When we started designing the system, and before we even ordered the first piece of equipment from Clear-Com, we knew we needed the flexibility to expand as we go,” Mader notes. The versatility and scalability of Clear-Com’s systems were extra appealing to IM, particularly given the unpredictable ways they knew their needs might evolve.
Furthermore, scaling up doesn’t require a visit from a technician. With the easy expansion of terrestrial communications, IM can focus on its core business of designing, building, and operating spaceflight hardware while preparing for missions and mitigating risk after those missions get off the ground.
That’s particularly important for IM. “IM is a growing company where the people designing and building the hardware are also the people working in our control rooms,” Mader says, citing the ease with which IM can loop in anyone, anywhere, quickly and easily via Clear-Com’s Agent-IC and Station-IC.
“We always have to be several steps ahead in accommodating growth,” he concludes. “That’s huge for us. We’re a small space company, but we’re growing, adding more control rooms for our team for real-time analysis and additional facilities for more people to support and coordinate with Nova Control. As we do that, and as we add ground sites to our network, Clear-Com allows us to be incredibly flexible – it’s plug and play.”