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Intuitive Machines' Nova-C lunar lander is scheduled to launch in mid-February of this year. Notably, the lander uses liquid methane as fuel and liquid oxygen as the oxidizer, and it will rely on this combination to perform the lunar landing.

While endless missions to geostationary orbit have been directly inserted by a rocket with LOX as the oxidizer, I can't find any missions where this most basic of oxidizers has been used beyond the GEO belt. Blok-D (with its RP-1/LOX RD-58 engine) would have done this during a nominal N1 flight, but obviously that never happened.

So will the IM-1 Nova-C mission really be the first time that LOX is ever used to propel something in deep space?

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    $\begingroup$ Centaur has been used for interplanetary missions but I haven't found the burn profile for any of them yet $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Aug 19, 2023 at 5:44
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    $\begingroup$ My first thought was LCROSS, but page 15 of the press kit suggests that the Centaur became inert after the TLI burn and it was all controlled by the attached LCROSS payload from there. $\endgroup$
    – quinnkenri
    Aug 19, 2023 at 5:47
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    $\begingroup$ "beyond GEO belt" is a clear yes: Many GEO satellites use a supersynchronous trajectory for insertion. $\endgroup$
    – asdfex
    Aug 25, 2023 at 7:26
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    $\begingroup$ @asdfex But the majority (all?) of those do not use LOX for that manoeuvre, so even counting that, the question is still an open one. $\endgroup$ Aug 25, 2023 at 11:57
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    $\begingroup$ Per the Astrogator's Guild recreation, the New Horizons Centaur burned for nine and a half minutes from a LEO parking orbit (its second burn) and that ended at 800km altitude. Wow. Nowhere close to GEO. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Aug 26, 2023 at 17:23

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No, because the IM-1 Nova-C mission will be the first time that LOX is ever used to propel something in deep space. LOX (liquid oxygen) is a very common oxidizer in rocket engines, but it is not typically used for missions beyond geosynchronous orbit (GEO) because it is a cryogenic fluid, meaning it needs to be stored at very low temperatures. This makes it difficult and expensive to transport and use in space.

The Blok-D engine that you mentioned was designed to use LOX as an oxidizer, but it was never flown on a nominal N1 flight. The N1 was a Soviet rocket that was designed to send a crewed spacecraft to the Moon, but it never succeeded in doing so. The Blok-D engine was intended to be used on the third stage of the N1 rocket, which would have taken the spacecraft into deep space.

The IM-1 Nova-C mission will use a different rocket engine, the Nova-C engine, which is also designed to use LOX as an oxidizer. The Nova-C engine is being developed by Intuitive Machines, a private company that is developing lunar landers. The IM-1 Nova-C mission is the first test flight of the Nova-C lander, and it will not go into deep space. However, it will be the first time that LOX has been used to propel something beyond GEO.

The IM-1 Nova-C mission is a significant milestone for the use of LOX in deep space propulsion. If the mission is successful, it could pave the way for future missions that use LOX to travel to Mars and other destinations beyond Earth orbit.

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    $\begingroup$ this answer would be better with some references, particularly any information that backs up the answer to the question. $\endgroup$
    – Erin Anne
    Aug 25, 2023 at 4:31

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