This Avionics Computer Enables Image Data Processing, Payload Control for NASA IM-1 Mission

An image of Odysseus’ landing released by NASA shows a leg from the lunar landing machine, as it performed its primary task, absorbing first contact with the lunar surface. (Image: Intuitive Machines)

Aitech provided a complete avionics computer system to Intuitive Machines for the IM-1 Mission, that successfully landed on the Moon on February 22, 2024.

NASA confirmed the successful Moon landing of the Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander, Odysseus, following a seven-day journey to lunar orbit in a Feb. 23 press release. The lander is healthy, collecting solar power, and transmitting data back to the company’s mission control in Houston. The mission marks the first commercial uncrewed landing on the Moon.

Intuitive Machines is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, which is a key part of NASA’s Artemis lunar exploration efforts. IM-1 is one of the missions NASA has chosen to take its scientific instruments to the moon over the next few years to help lay the foundation for human missions and a sustainable human presence on the lunar surface.

CLPS mission objectives include demonstrating precision landing, observing how rocket plumes and space weather interact with the lunar surface, as well as testing certain communication and navigation node capabilities for future autonomous navigation technologies.

Aitech provided the complete conduction-cooled hardware for the Nova-C avionics system for use as both a payload controller and image data processor. Intuitive Machines utilized this dual SP0-S setup to respectively run both VxWorks RTOS and Linux to execute its time-critical software while processing video data streams down to a NAND flash storage module. This unique dual single board computer (SBC) system leverages RS-422, SpaceWire cameras, and NAND flash storage in an all-in-one space-rated avionics system.

“We aim to support the most demanding space applications with computing and connectivity electronics systems, while continuously anticipating and exceeding the needs and expectations of the space industry for not only lunar but also LEO, GEO and Deep Space applications. The Nova-C class lunar lander’s system is an example of how Aitech is developing rugged space system solutions capable of providing reliable performance for the most unforgiving environments," said Ralph Grundler, Space Director of Aitech.

Aitech’s space-rated SP0-S is a radiation-tolerant 3U CompactPCI SBC developed to handle high-performance processing and enhanced memory storage in orbit. Aitech’s SP0-S architecture supports up to seven additional cards on the CompactPCI backplane providing clock, arbitration, and interrupt servicing, including additional SP0-S SBCs as peripheral processors, as seen in the Nova-C lunar lander.

The S740 radiation tolerant communications PMC is designed with 16 input and 16 output differential channels of RS-422 and utilizes the onboard FPGA logic to interface to the external spacecraft sensors and devices. To reduce bottlenecks, the S740 is designed with a protected onboard PCI Bus DMA controller for input and output data packet buffering.

NASA and Intuitive Machines co-hosted a news conference on Feb. 28 to provide a status update on the six NASA instruments that collected data on the IM-1 mission. Mission challenges and successes were discussed during the briefing including more than 350 megabits of science data downloaded ready for analysis. During transit, all powered NASA payloads operated and received data. During descent and landing, guidance and navigation data was collected that will help improve landing precision in the future, and all three payloads that were designed to operate on the surface have received data.