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SpaceX picked to launch upcoming NASA moon mission

The space agency is sending a series of robots to the moon, and Elon Musk's company will help the first one get there.

A rendering of Intuitive Machines' Nova-C on the moon.
Intuitive Machines

Elon Musk's SpaceX seems to be a popular choice for private missions to the moon that need a lift.

Houston-based Intuitive Machines will use SpaceX's workhorse Falcon 9 rocket to launch a Nova-C lander that's heading to the moon in 2021, the companies said Wednesday.

A Falcon 9 was also used to launch the Israeli Beresheet spacecraft for its moon mission earlier this year, but the lander suffered a crash landing on the lunar surface. 

Intuitive Machines, which specializes in autonomous systems, and its Nova-C will make the trip to the moon to do work for NASA. The company is one of several selected by the space agency for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. The idea is to send a number of robotic missions to the moon to perform science experiments and test new technologies in advance of NASA's planned return to the lunar surface with astronauts as soon as 2024.

Intuitive Machines says Nova-C can carry at least 220 pounds (100 kg) of cargo to the lunar surface. It is set to carry five NASA payloads to the moon and transmit scientific data from those experiments back to Earth for about two weeks. 

The company said it also has room for payloads from other customers for its 2021 mission, so if there's something you'd like to send to the moon, act fast.