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St. Pete startup celebrates successful lunar launch

Mark Parker



A SpaceX rocket carrying an Intuitive Machines spacecraft and a local payload successfully launched from Kennedy Space Center Feb. 15. Photo: Alex Honeycutt.

A St. Petersburg-based company’s ambitious plan to transmit data from space has taken a significant step forward as its first payload is now flying to the Moon.

Lonestar Data Holdings’ pioneering mission, dubbed “Independence,” formally began when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched from NASA’s Kenndy Space Center at 1:05 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 15. Intuitive Machines’ innovative lunar lander, “Odysseus,” separated from the rocket 48 minutes later and fired its main engine for the first time Saturday.

Chris Stott, founder and CEO of Lonestar, said Odysseus and the local startup’s payload should land sometime Thursday (Feb. 22). “That’s a fast burn to the moon,” he told the Catalyst.

For comparison, Japan’s space agency reached the lunar surface in January after a six-month journey. Stott credited Lonestar, SpaceX and Intuitive Machines’ collaborative efforts for the early success.

“This is what American entrepreneurs are capable of,” Stott said. “Getting into space is literal rocket science. To see it in person and everyone come together to make it happen was just superb.”

Lonestar should reach another, more critical company milestone today. Stott expects to transmit the Declaration of Independence from space before 10:30 p.m. on, serendipitously, President’s Day.

The overarching goal is establishing reliable and secure data centers on the Moon. Stott said Lonestar would also transmit documents to the spacecraft and called the tests a proof-of-concept for disaster recovery and “refresh and restore” capabilities.

“This is the big one for us,” Stott explained. “We have two test missions this year. Both are going to the Moon, but the ones that come after that are going to orbit around the Moon. So, we’re getting to test right where we’ll be in space.”

Intuitive Machines’ unique lunar lander, “Odysseus,” shown above the Australian continent. Image: Intuitive Machines.

Lonestar has worked towards this moment since 2018. Space Florida is among the company’s first customers, and officials were guests at the launch.

Stott called the organization “really forward-looking” for realizing the mission’s benefits. He believes Earth’s largest satellite, the Moon, provides an ideal place to protect the world’s increasingly vast amounts of data from natural and man-made threats.

Lonestar is already a part of space industry history. Intuitive Machines has never used Odysseus or its main engine, which uses liquid oxygen and methane as deep-space fuel.

AmeriSpace called that more than “just a curiosity” in a recent report. “The long-term storage of liquid of cryogenic propellants is an enabling capability for the Artemis program,” elaborated the author.

NASA will land the first woman and person of color on the Moon through its long-planned Artemis missions. The organization, in collaboration with commercial partners like Intuitive Machines, will also establish the first long-term lunar presence.

AmeriSpace explained that cryogenic fuels are more efficient and less toxic than other storable propellants. That will enable Odysseus to reach the Moon in under a week.

If successful, Odysseus will become the first American spacecraft to complete a lunar landing since NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. “Great team at Intuitive Machines – and that’s why we chose to work with them,” Stott said.

“There were many other providers we could have gone with,” he added. “But we looked at the strength of their management team, their experience in space operations coming out of NASA … It was really the people, and that’s how we made our choice.”

A rocket fueling issue delayed the launch for a day. Scott likened that to a minor inconvenience, considering engineers are “hurling things out into the void” to complete once unthinkable tasks.

Lonestar CEO Chris Stott (left) speaks with Jay F. Honeycutt at the Dec. 15 opening of mission control inside the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub. Photo by Mark Parker.

Lonestar, based at the Maritime and Defense Technology Hub in St. Petersburg’s Innovation District, opened its official mission control center Dec. 15. Stott named the facility after Jay F. Honeycutt, the NASA engineer whose foresight helped save the Apollo 13 lunar landing crew in 1970.

“He said, ‘Look, no matter how frustrating, it’s always better to be down here (Earth) wishing you were up there – than up there, wishing you were down here,'” Stott said of Honeycutt. “Is it frustrating? Of course, it is. Is it also reassuring? Yes, because you know they’re checking absolutely everything before that $67 million launch vehicle takes off.”

In addition, he said there was only a 15-second launch window. The delay meant that Odysseus left Earth on the 120th anniversary of famed South Pole explorer Ernest Shackleton’s birthday.

The spacecraft will land on the Moon’s South Pole. “So, that’s kind of appropriate,” Stott said.

He believes the Independence mission will bolster St. Petersburg’s burgeoning reputation as a haven for entrepreneurs and new technology. Stott also hopes other space-related companies will notice what he has seen in the city for years.

“This is our home,” Stott added. “This is our global headquarters; this is where we want to be.”



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  1. Avatar

    Velva Heraty

    February 20, 2024at12:24 am

    How absolutely wonderful!

  2. Avatar

    John Donovan

    February 19, 2024at4:30 pm

    I can remember seeing Gemini morning launches on TV before school; and my beloved GI Joe Gemini spacecraft toy. Having this space industry in St Petersburg is a big deal!

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