Intuitive Machines has successfully launched its lunar lander, which, once it lands on the moon, would be the first commercial vehicle to do so. Photo via Intuitive Machines

Houston-based Intuitive Machines just made one giant leap for mankind.

On February 15, the space exploration, infrastructure, and services company successfully launched its IM-1 mission Nova-C class lunar lander on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. The launch followed a one-day delay.

The lunar touchdown of the Odysseus spacecraft is set for February 22, according to The Washington Post.

“If all goes well … it will become the first American spacecraft to gently set down on the moon’s surface since the Apollo 17 moon landing in 1972,” The New York Times notes.

It also would be the first commercial vehicle to land on the moon.

The IM-1 mission lander launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:05 a.m. CST. The lunar lander reached its orbit about 48 minutes later, and made its first communication with Intuitive Machines’ mission operations center in Houston at 12:59 a.m. CST.

The Intuitive Machines IM-1 mission is the company’s first attempted lunar landing as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, a key part of NASA’s Artemis moon exploration efforts. The science and technology payloads sent to the moon’s surface as part of the initiative are aimed at gearing up for human missions and a sustainable human presence on the moon’s surface.

NASA is the primary customer for this mission, paying Intuitive Machines $118 million to take its payloads to the moon’s surface, including a stereo camera to observe the plume of dust kicked up during landing and a radio receiver to measure the effects of charged particles on radio signals, according to The Times. Also aboard is cargo such as a camera built by students at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, and the Moon Phases project by American artist Jeff Koons.

“We are keenly aware of the immense challenges that lie ahead,” Steve Altemus, co-founder, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “However, it is precisely in facing these challenges head-on that we recognize the magnitude of the opportunity before us: to softly return the United States to the surface of the Moon for the first time in 52 years.”

The liftoff of the IM-1 mission was targeted for a multiday launch window that opened at 11:57 p.m. CST on February 13. Intuitive Machines and SpaceX had concluded pre-launch testing on February 12.

“I feel fairly confident that we’re going to be successful softly touching down on the moon,” Altemus told The New York Times. “We’ve done the tests. We tested and tested and tested. As much testing as we could do.”

Last year, Intuitive Machines went public through a SPAC (special purpose acquisition company) merger with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp. The Houston company’s stock trades on the NASDAQ stock market. Following the launch of the lunar lander, Intuitive Machines saw a spike in its stock price on February 15.

Here's what Houston tech and startup news trended this year on InnovationMap in space tech. Image via Getty Images

Top Space City news of 2023: New Houston unicorn, an IPO, spaceport development, and more

year in review

Editor's note: As the year comes to a close, InnovationMap is looking back at the year's top stories in Houston innovation. In the Space City, there were dozens of space tech stories, from a space tech company reaching unicorn status to another completing its IPO. Here are five Houston space tech-focused articles that stood out to readers this year — be sure to click through to read the full story.


Local university gets green light to launch new building at Houston Spaceport

City of Houston has entered into an agreement with Texas Southern University to develop an aviation program at the Houston Spaceport. Photo via fly2houston.com

With a financial boost from the City of Houston, the aviation program at Texas Southern University will operate an aeronautical training hub on a two-acre site at Ellington Airport.

The Houston Airport System — which runs Ellington Airport, George Bush Intercontinental Airport, Hobby Airport, and Houston Spaceport — is chipping in as much as $5 billion to build the facility, which will train aeronautical professionals.

On May 3, the Houston City Council authorized a five-year agreement between the airport system and TSU to set up and operate the facility. Continue reading the full story from May.

Houston space tech startup closes deal to IPO

Intuitive Machines will be listed on Nasdaq beginning February 14. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

It's official. This Houston company is live in the public market.

Intuitive Machines, a space tech company based in Southeast Houston, announced that it has completed the transaction to merge with Inflection Point Acquisition Corp., a special purpose acquisition company traded on Nasdaq.

“We are excited to begin this new chapter as a publicly traded company,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, in a news release. “Intuitive Machines is in a leading position to replace footprints with a foothold in the development of lunar space. With our launch into the public sphere through Inflection Point, we have reached new heights financially and opened the doors for even greater exploration and innovation for the progress of humanity.”

The transaction, which was originally announced in September, was approved by Inflection Point’s shareholders in a general meeting on February 8. As a result of the deal, the company will receive around $55 million of committed capital from an affiliate of its sponsor and company founders, the release states. Continue reading the full story from February.

Houston to host 6 Italian aerospace companies with new program

Six Italian companies are coming to the Space City to accelerate their businesses thanks to a new program. Photo via nasa.gov

It's an Italian invasion in Houston — and it's happening in the name of accelerating innovation within aerospace.

For the first time, Italy has announced an international aerospace-focused program in the United States. The Italian Trade Agency and Italian Space Agency will partner with Space Foundation to launch Space It Up, an initiative that will accelerate six companies in Houston.

“The launch of Space It Up marks a pivotal moment in our ongoing commitment to nurturing innovation and facilitating global partnerships," Fabrizio Giustarini, Italian Trade Commissioner of Houston, says in a news release. "This program serves as a testament to the collaborative spirit that defines the aerospace industry. It represents the convergence of Italian ingenuity and Houston's esteemed legacy in space exploration, setting the stage for unprecedented advancements." Continue reading the full story from August.

Houston space tech startup raises $350M series C, clinches unicorn status

Axiom Space CEO Michael Suffredini (right) has announced the company's series C round with support from Aljazira Capital, led by CEO Naif AlMesned. Photo courtesy of Axiom Space

Houston has another unicorn — a company valued at $1 billion or more — thanks to a recent round of funding.

Axiom Space released the news this week that it's closed its series C round of funding to the tune of $350 million. While the company didn't release its valuation, it confirmed to Bloomberg that it's over the $1 billion threshold. Axiom reports that, according to available data, it's now raised the second-most funding of any private space company in 2023 behind SpaceX.

Saudi Arabia-based Aljazira Capital and South Korea-based Boryung Co. led the round. To date, Axiom has raised over $505 million with $2.2 billion in customer contracts, according to the company.

“We are honored to team with investors like Aljazira Capital, Boryung and others, who are committed to realizing the Axiom Space vision,” Axiom Space CEO and president Michael Suffredini says in a news release. “Together, we are working to serve innovators in medicine, materials science, and on-orbit infrastructure who represent billions of dollars in demand over the coming decade. Continue reading the full story from August.

Texas university to build $200M space institute in Houston

Texas A&M University will build a new facility near NASA's Johnson Space Center. Photo courtesy of JSC

Texas A&M University's board of regents voted to approve the construction of a new institute in Houston that hopes to contribute to maintaining the state's leadership within the aerospace sector.

This week, the Texas A&M Space Institute got the greenlight for its $200 million plan. The announcement follows a $350 million investment from the Texas Legislature. The institute is planned to be constructed next to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

“The Texas A&M Space Institute will make sure the state expands its role as a leader in the new space economy,” John Sharp, chancellor of the Texas A&M System, says in a news release. “No university is better equipped for aeronautics and space projects than Texas A&M.” Continue reading the full story from August.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Wogbe Ofori of WRX Companies, Amy Chronis of Deloitte, Steve Altemus of Intuitive Machines, and the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards winners. Photos courtesy

3+ Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from hardtech to digital solutions — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Wogbe Ofori, founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies

Wogbe Ofori, founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss hardtech and Houston as an innovative city. Photo via LinkedIn

To Wogbe Ofori, the definition of entrepreneurship is simple: "To be more opportunity centric than risk averse." And Houston, as he says, has be entrepreneurial for a very long time — despite it being considered the specialty of a certain coastal region.

"Silicon Valley has hijacked the concept of innovation and entrepreneurship, and this city has been filled with entrepreneurs long before the concept of 'tech entrepreneurs,'" Ofori says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.

Ofori, the founder and chief strategist of WRX Companies, has developed a keen eye for entrepreneurship and innovation activity in Houston and shares his observations on the show. An adviser to Nauticus Robotics and strategist to Intuitive Machines and Jacobs, he's also served as a mentor across the local innovation community. Read more or listen below.

Amy Chronis, vice chair, US Energy and Chemicals Leader and Houston managing partner at Deloitte

Amy Chonis shares Houston listmakers from Deloitte's annual report. Photo courtesy Deloitte/AlexandersPortraits.com

Deloitte just unveiled the fastest-growing technology companies in North America — and four businesses from Houston made the cut.

For the 29th year, 2023 Technology Fast 500 ranked top tech, media, telecommunications, life sciences, and energy technology companies based on fiscal year revenue growth from 2019 to 2022. While no Houston business was able to break into the top 100, four did make the cut for this year's list.

“It is great to see Houston represented alongside established technology hubs on this year’s Fast 500 list,” Amy Chronis, vice chair, US Energy and Chemicals Leader and Houston managing partner at Deloitte, says in a statement. “Houston is planting seeds for future innovation, and the companies named to this year’s list confirm our city’s value proposition as an innovative community. We look forward to this growth continuing in the future and extend our congratulations to this year’s Houston winners.” Read more.

Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines

Intuitive Machines has some big news. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Intuitive Machines has landed a nearly $9.5 million Air Force contract to develop technology for NASA’s Gateway project, the first space station that will orbit the moon. Specifically, the technology will support a high-powered nuclear fission system that will supply electricity for satellites, bypassing the need for power from solar, battery, or fuel-cell sources.

“As space exploration ventures become more ambitious and diverse, the need for efficient and reliable power sources in space is paramount,” Pete McGrath, vice president of business development at Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Developing the ability to expand power sources beyond solar, which requires heavy battery storage, could remove the burden of constantly worrying about a spacecraft’s arrays relative to the sun, and potentially deliver long-term stability for satellites that would otherwise lose power over time.”

Second, Intuitive Machines has set January window for the launch of its IM-1 lunar mission in conjunction with private aerospace company SpaceX. The liftoff is targeted for a multiday window that opens January 12, 2024. Read more.

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards winners

The 2023 Houston Innovation Awards revealed its big winners across 13 categories. Photos courtesy

Who are the top innovators and startups in Houston? We just found out for you. The Houston Innovation Awards honored over 50 finalists categories, naming the 12 winners at the event. The 2023 Trailblazer Award recipient, Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship, was also honored at the event by inaugural winner, Barbara Burger. Read more.

It's a busy time for Houston-based Intuitive Machines, which recently announced the launch date for its historic lunar mission and a new Air Force contract. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Houston space tech company snags $9.5M contract, sets launch date for lunar mission

green light

Business at Houston-based space exploration company Intuitive Machines is taking off on two fronts.

First, Intuitive Machines has landed a nearly $9.5 million Air Force contract to develop technology for NASA’s Gateway project, the first space station that will orbit the moon. Specifically, the technology will support a high-powered nuclear fission system that will supply electricity for satellites, bypassing the need for power from solar, battery, or fuel-cell sources.

“As space exploration ventures become more ambitious and diverse, the need for efficient and reliable power sources in space is paramount,” Pete McGrath, vice president of business development at Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Developing the ability to expand power sources beyond solar, which requires heavy battery storage, could remove the burden of constantly worrying about a spacecraft’s arrays relative to the sun, and potentially deliver long-term stability for satellites that would otherwise lose power over time.”

Second, Intuitive Machines has set January window for the launch of its IM-1 lunar mission in conjunction with private aerospace company SpaceX. The liftoff is targeted for a multiday window that opens January 12, 2024.

“There are inherent challenges of lunar missions; schedule changes and mission adjustments are a natural consequence of pioneering lunar exploration,” Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines, says in a news release. “Receiving a launch window and the required approvals to fly is a remarkable achievement, and the schedule adjustment is a small price to pay for making history.”

The IM-1 mission will be the company’s first attempted lunar landing as part of NASA’s commercial payload initiative.

Intuitive Machines went public earlier this year via SPAC. Co-founder Tim Crain shared a bit of the origin story of the company on a recent episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast.


Tim Craine is co-founder and CTO of Intuitive Machines. Photo via intuitivemachines.com

Houston innovator discusses the power of a pivot and the future of the Space City

houston innovators podcast episode 208

It might surprise many to learn that publicly traded, NASA-backed Intuitive Machines, which has emerged as a commercial leader within lunar access technology development, had several pivots before finding its niche within space innovation.

In fact, as Co-Founder and CTO Tim Crain explains on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast, the company was founded as a space-focused think tank. Crain, along with his co-founders CEO Steve Altemus and Chairman Kamal Ghaffarian, came together in 2013 to start Intuitive Machines, which recently moved into a $40 million headquarters in the Houston Spaceport.

"At the time, our thought was, 'let's take the best of human space flight engineering processes, disciplines, and know how, and look at how we might commercially deploy that for biomedical, energy, big data, and aerospace,'" Crain says on the show. "We wanted to look at how we use great engineering for some of the hard problems outside of NASA's aerospace sphere."

Crain describes the early years of IM as important to the company because the founders learned how to run a business and meet customers' needs and expectations — things he had little experience from his previous roles as a civil servant at NASA. But Crain says they never fell in love with any of the early technologies and ideas they developed — from long-range drones to precision drilling technologies.

Then, everyone's eyes were on returning to the moon. With this new vision, NASA created the Commercial Lunar Payload Services Program. As Crain explains, this evolution involved looking to hire companies to deliver scientific and developmental payloads to the moon. IM won three of the NASA contracts so far, representing three missions for NASA.

"We dipped our toe in the 'let's develop the moon' river and promptly got pulled all the way in," Crain says. "We left our think tank, broad, multi-sector efforts behind, and really pivoted at that point to focus entirely on NASA's CLPS needs. ... The timing really could not have been any better."

Later this month, Crain will discuss IM's journey in detail for a NASA Tech Talk at the Ion. If you're interested in learning more after listening to the podcast, click here to sign up for the free October 26 event.

With Crain's decades in the space industry, he's observed a resurgence lately, and that has directly impacted Houston's role in the industry.

"The future of Space City is really just beginning to move into a time of producing the hardware here and having Houstonians make the spacecraft, space systems, and the technologies that we use to explore and develop the solar system," Crain says on the show.

Intuitive Machines has officially moved into its new HQ. Photo courtesy of Intuitive Machines

Space tech startup opens new $40M HQ at Houston Spaceport

ready for takeoff

Houston aerospace company Intuitive Machines has moved into its new $40 million headquarters at the Houston Spaceport.

Intuitive Machines’ new home supports NASA’s $93 billion Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 and eventually send humans to Mars. Eighteen astronauts are assigned to the program. Houston’s Johnson Space Center is playing a key role in Artemis.

The company’s 105,572-square-foot Lunar Production and Operations Center serves as the hub for its lunar program, including the manufacturing of lunar landers and spacecraft. The facility features manufacturing and production spaces, 3D printing areas, machine shops, R&D labs, cleanrooms, and spacecraft assembly areas, along with offices, meeting rooms, and conference rooms.

“Unique to the facility are mission control rooms to track and manage lunar missions, and a propulsion test facility to assess lunar lander engine capabilities,” Intuitive Machines says in a news release.

The propulsion test facility consists of a 3,800-square-foot reinforced concrete chamber surrounded by a 25-foot-high perimeter wall that encloses an additional 6,500-square-foot yard.

Intuitive Machines says its first mission lunar lander, Nova-C, will soon be shipped from its new facility ahead of the lander’s upcoming launch. The mission to deliver NASA and commercial payloads to the moon’s south pole marks the first U.S. attempt of a soft lunar landing since Apollo 17 in 1972.

The moon “is no longer a distant dream; it’s a destination within our grasp, and this facility is our lunar gateway — a national asset,” says Steve Altemus, co-founder, president, and CEO of Intuitive Machines.

Construction on the site began in June 2021, with the now-completed facility ready to support each of Intuitive Machines’ three NASA-awarded missions.

Intuitive Machines joins Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace as the third anchor tenant at the Houston Spaceport.

“Houston has always been a city that reaches for the stars, and with Intuitive Machines operating at the Houston Spaceport, our city is poised to shine even brighter in the cosmos,” says Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner.

In August, the publicly traded company announced it received a $20 million equity investment from an unidentified institutional investor.

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Nonprofit synthetic biology accelerator names inaugural executive director

new hire

A Houston accelerator that supports early-stage synthetic biology startups has named its first executive director.

BioWell, which was founded by First Bight Ventures, a Houston-based venture capital group, has announced the appointment of Paul Palmer as executive director. It's the nonprofit organization's first move in assembling its management team. According to his LinkedIn, he's served in the role since November.

“Paul was a clear choice for BioWell because of his combined experience at EY and engagement with Houston’s entrepreneurial community,” First Bight Ventures & BioWell Founder Veronica Wu says in a statement. “Working with large corporations and startups at all levels, he has successfully delivered value-based results for his clients.

"Equally important, Paul has an established relationship with the Houston business community and will be able to leverage his existing network to promote BioWell and our participant entrepreneurs in a public-facing role," she continues.

Palmer was formerly a partner at EY, where he worked on international cross-border tax planning, business development, assurance, and business consulting, as well as working with startups in collaboration with organizations like the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship and Texas Medical Center Innovation.

He joins the BioWell to execute on the organization's mission of "creating an ecosystem that provides hands-on business education, industry mentorship, research, and pilot infrastructure" for the bioeconomy, per the release. He will oversee fundraising, partnerships, sponsorships, and grant opportunities.

He will also lead recruiting for the BioWell's inaugural cohort and securing lab space, which is expected in the coming months.

“Utilizing the resources and expertise of First Bight Ventures, along with our recent EDA grant, BioWell is set to assist with innovation and industrial biology advancements for the United States,” Palmer says in the release.

In December, BioWell, secured $741,925 of the $53 million doled out as a part of the "Build to Scale" Grant program that the U.S. Economic Development Administration, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce, has established. First Bight was one of 60 organizations to receive funding.

“With the formation of our leadership team, we’re making significant progress on building out the BioWell platform. We are excited about nurturing solutions in industrial biology and helping to establish Houston’s leadership in the global bioeconomy,” he continues.

Houston organizations team up to bring inaugural climate startup week

mark your calendars

Three organizations are teaming up to put on a week of programming and events focused on energy and climate startups.

Greentown Labs, Halliburton Labs, and the Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship have announced Houston Energy and Climate Startup Week 2024 taking place September 9 to 13.

“These organizations will execute events that will serve as a launching pad for an Energy and Climate Startup Week in Houston, showcasing the city as a national hub for the energy future,” Brad Burke, executive director of the Rice Alliance, says in the release. “We welcome the community to bring other energy and climate events to the week, which we’ll cross-promote as the dates approach.”

The week will assemble investors, industry leaders, and startups from across the energy industry and from around the world to showcase Houston's growing sustainable, low-carbon energy future.

The initiative is in collaboration with the Houston Energy Transition Initiative, or HETI, an initiative of the Greater Houston Partnership, as well as Activate, Digital Wildcatters, Renewable Energy Alliance Houston, and TEX-E.

“As the energy capital and one of the most diverse cities in the world, Houston stands as a center point for these solutions. The region is welcoming, diverse and has the know-how to play a critical role in building an energy abundant, low-carbon future," Jane Stricker, executive director of HETI and senior vice president at GHP, says in the release. "We welcome all who want to be part of the solution to join for this exciting, inaugural week of events.”

Attendees can expect tech and startup showcases, panels, pitches, discussions, and networking events to be hosted across Houston and at the Ion, Rice's innovation hub in Midtown. More details on the events will be added to the Ion's website as they become available.

“We look forward to the opportunity to highlight talented founders and connect them with investors, industry practitioners and university resources to help accelerate energy innovation,” Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs, says in the release. “The collaboration to launch Energy and Climate Startup Week reflects how Houston works together to scale solutions."

Houston health tech startup revolutionizing spinal taps receives FDA clearance

tap in

Houston startup IntuiTap Medical has gained clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for its VerTouch medical device.

The company says VerTouch is designed to make spinal punctures more accurate and consistent. The handheld imaging tool helps health care providers perform spinal punctures at a patient’s bedside.

IntuiTap says it plans to roll out the device at U.S. hospitals within the next year. The company is mulling global partnerships to help launch VerTouch.

IntuiTap’s proprietary spinal-mapping technology enables VerTouch to generate a 2D image of lumbar spinal anatomy, helping health care providers visualize a patient’s spine and guide them toward more precise needle placement.

Each year, 12.7 million Americans undergo an epidural, spinal block, or lumbar puncture, says IntuiTap.

“Having spent more than two decades pioneering the use of ultrasound to improve emergency lumbar punctures, I know the challenge of these procedures and that difficult training and image interpretation prevent ultrasound from being a complete solution,” Dr. Michael Blaivas, co-founder past president of the Society of Ultrasound in Medical Education, says in a news release.

IntuiTap says the FDA clearance “validates the safety and effectiveness” of VerTouch. The device has undergone testing at several institutions in the U.S., including Houston’s Texas Medical Center and Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Jessica Traver, co-founder and CEO of IntuiTap, says the FDA clearance “marks a crucial milestone in our team’s journey to making epidurals, spinals, and lumbar punctures more accurate and efficient.”

Investors in IntuiTap include:

  • Dr. Paul Klotman, president of the Baylor College of Medicine
  • Venture capitalist Tim Draper
  • William Hawkins III, retired CEO of medical device giant Medtronic
  • Dr. Vip Patel, Founder of the Global Robotics Institute
  • Dr. Mary Klotman, dean of the Duke University’s medical school
  • Carrie Colbert, founder of Houston-based Curate Capital, a female-focused VC firm

“Our investment in IntuiTap was just as much about our faith in the technology, our faith in Jessica as the founder, and our conviction that innovation was sorely needed in this area,” Colbert says.

“The fact that the company is receiving FDA clearance is a huge leap forward, and as a venture capital fund who focuses on female-founded companies that benefit women, it’s extremely rewarding to know this device will impact so many women’s lives.”

In 2021, IntuiTap announced it had closed a $5.5 million series A funding round led by Curate Capital and The Pink Ceiling, a woman-centered investment firm. The startup was founded in 2016.