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Intuitive Machines CEO on the future of Moon missions

Get ready to lift off into the next generation! After Intuitive Machines' (LUNR) successful moon landing in February, the space exploration company is partnering with NASA alongside Boeing (BA) and Northrop Grumman (NOC) to develop a new Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV).

Intuitive Machines President and CEO Steve Altmus sits down with Yahoo Finance's Akiko Fujita at the 2024 Milken Conference to talk about some of the regulatory risks in expanding into commercial space projects, as well as the excitement around several of the company's latest plans and lunar crafts.

"Well, we designed and developed a mission to the Moon at a price point that was roughly $118 million and did it in about four years. We have totally disrupted the industry in terms of the economics of flying to the Moon. That's a success," Altmus says on Intuitive Machines' work with NASA. "You look at then how we operated the mission through all of the challenges and tribulations on heading out to the Moon over 300,000 miles out there. And we solved every problem on the way there."

Catch more of Yahoo Finance's coverage at the 2024 Milken Institute Global Conference.

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This post was written by Luke Carberry Mogan.

Video transcript

I'm here at the Beverly Hilton in L a on the ground for the Milk Institute Global Conference.We are talking about space exploration and the new space economy.We got out here with me.He is the founder, CEO and president into a machine.Good talk to you today.Very timely conversation here, given the announcement today or what we are looking at today.Potentially Boeing launching their first cap with crews to the international space station.They're one of your partners in the upcoming um LTV.But I I'm curious how you look at this in the context of upsides like upstarts like yourself.Although you wouldn't probably call yourself an upstart, um, and then the Legacy Space company.It's been a bit of a journey for Boeing to get here.Yeah, I would say it's been a journey for both of us, right?We actually started our business in the Boeing Space Exploration Building, believe it or not, and I have good relationships with them, and I'm really proud.Let me just say First of all, for Boeing's perseverance on the Starliner, it has been a real challenge for them to get their spacecraft ready to and safe for our astronauts and I think they're ready to go.We're very happy about all that.What's interesting, though, is while they've worked through some very difficult technical challenges, what's the future of that programme?I'm not quite sure how well it will persist over time and what kind of investment it will take.It speaks to a broader issue in the industry about what's the role of the traditional prime contractor or the strategic aerospace company you know, in context of the LTV, which you just mentioned, you know, in two the machines, as a smaller company, sits on top of that team with the likes of Boeing and Northrop Grumman, Michelin and a BL as our subcontract.So I think the environment of NASA and the way they're doing non traditional procurements to buy goods and services for the Artemis programme has fundamentally changed the landscape and disrupted strategic aerospace.When you when you say that you're not sure about the programme not to single out bones specifically.But is it about the structure of a company, this reality today where you need to be a little more nimble to be to move aggressively in the face of SpaceX and other upstarts.I think there's a big part of this about the future of the CIS lunar economy or the Artemis campaign or set of programmes where you have to be able to work in an environment of fixed price contracting.You have to be able to stand there and deliver with that risk.And the government is asking us as commercial companies to share the risk.And sometimes with the larger strategic aerospace companies.Their boards and their shareholders are not comfortable with that risk posture where a smaller, more nimble, agile company can maybe work around those financial risks and be successful.And I think the companies that can figure this out, the ones who can manage with these non traditional procurements, will be the Tier one aerospace companies of the future.And I think that's intuitive machines.And you said, in some ways the structure is kind of reversed, right intuitive machines, at least with the LTV, the one that bringing the traditional aerospace players into the fold that's correct so initially as the systems integrator would be a big strategic aerospace company.Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, north of in this case because of the nuances of the procurement itself.Intuitive machines brings the most value to be that systems integrator.And, like I was talking with you about earlier, is the ability to deliver not only an LTV on a cargo class lander design and build an LTV and then operate it on the surface.Both commercially and for NASA.That requires communication services and the tuna machines brings all of that as a one of a kind company.It's been quite an eventful several months for you in you Launch your lander landed on the surface of the moon, the first commercial company to do so.It tipped a little right, and so you were able to complete the mission at the length, as I understand it that you did.Although NASA was able to get all their experiments out as well, what is the lesson learned from them?In many ways, it speaks to the challenges of being able to successfully fully carry out a mission on the move.I'll tell you something.It was a fantastic achievement.We're very proud of that achievement, and I declared success because we flew the mission well.We designed and developed a mission to the moon at a price point.That was roughly $118 million and did it in about four years.We have totally disrupted the industry in terms of the economics of flying to the moon.That's a success.You look at how we operate at the mission through all of the challenges and tribulations on heading out to the moon over 300,000 miles out there, and we solved every problem on the way there.We landed with no laser altimeters.We talked about that and still landed softly.Now we tipped over.But we did return NASA all the data they had requested.And we went about 164 hours long on the surface of the moon, and our requirement was 144 hours.Now, what we do of interest that people don't know that aerospace is difficult.Flying missions in space is difficult.So we naturally have a process we call a hot wash where we took 30 days to analyse every aspect of the mission.What went perfectly, what didn't go so perfectly what went wrong?Is there anything need to be fixed?And we came out with a set of things that says, OK, now we're going to go improve our tech, all the tech to do autonomous engine firings to do navigation in and around the moon without GPS and to land with precision and hazard avoidance.No slopes greater than 10 degrees and no rocks bigger than a bowling ball.So if I can do all that in our second mission, we can improve our ability to land 20 times with precision, and the South Pole is going to require that.And that's what we do continually refined for that pinpoint accuracy.So you're going from Lunar Lander to now a lander for crude missions to the moon.What is the path to profitability look like for this?And what is commercial demand as you see it out there?Yeah, slight difference than the way you stated it.We go from a small science and discovery based autonomous lander to establishing communications in and around the moon.Data relay satellites, navigation.They call it position navigation and timing to heavier, heavier cargo and the heavier cargo element.The Nova D Class Lander will deliver our lunar terrain vehicle, the first piece infrastructure piece for the Artemis mission that will transport astronauts around the surface in extreme mobility situations.So as a company, our vision is to deliver space systems to the surface with our our our family of Landers to do command and control and navigation in and around the moon so that it enables surface operations.Those pieces together, I believe in two of the machines is the only company that's got all three pieces, or at least two of the three, with the last chess piece being a near space network contract with NASA to provide the commercial communications from the moon around the moon and back to Earth.So we're looking forward to that award hearing about that award in late May or early June, and that would give us all of the three pieces to have absolute confidence.We could execute these kind of missions and provide this infrastructure as a service to NASA, and they can bring up the astronauts and the astronaut systems, and we will provide the power, the data, the communications, the navigation and happy to do that on the full stack there.It's certainly been exciting to follow the progress.Steve Al is with intuitive machines.Good to talk to you Appreciate that.Thank you very much.