Elon Musk’s private space company is developing a giant rocket called Starship to one day send humans to Mars.
But first, it will drop NASA astronauts on the moon.
NASA announced Friday that it has awarded a $ 2.9 billion contract to SpaceX to use Starship to bring astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface.
NASA’s Trend Expansion Contract relies on private companies to transport people, cargo and robot adventurers into space. But it also represents a triumph for Mr. Musk in the war for space billionaires. One of the competitors for NASA’s moon contract is Blue Origin, created by Jeffrey P. Bezos of Amazon.
SpaceX now outperforms Blue Origin and other rocket makers, highlighting how it has become NASA’s most senior partner in the human space flight program.
When NASA hits its goal of bringing the next astronauts to the moon – now promised by the Biden administration to be the first woman and the first colored human to be on the moon – they are likely to be sitting in one. SpaceX car.
News of the award was previously reported in The Washington Post.
Last year, NASA awarded contracts to three companies for initial design work on landers that could send humans to the lunar surface. In addition to SpaceX, NASA selected proposals from Dynetics, a defense contractor in Huntsville, Ala. And Mr Bezos’s Blue Origin, has been involved in what it calls the National Team alongside several traditional aerospace companies: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.
The award is only for the first crew landing and SpaceX must make an unmanned landing first. NASA officials say Blue Origin, Dynetics and other companies will be able to bid for future moon landing missions.
President Biden is maintaining plans that began under President Donald J. Trump to send astronauts back to the moon. But while Mr. Trump has pledged to go back to 2024, the schedule has not been seen as realistic after Congress failed to provide the required financing and NASA is currently reassessing the schedule.
NASA’s moon program, called Artemis, is slated to kick off its first voyage later this year or early next year, using a powerful rocket known as the Space Launch System to push the Orion capsule, where the future astronauts will sit, on a trip to the moon and back. The rocket’s booster phase passed an important ground test last month.
As for the spacecraft that will land astronauts on the moon, NASA is expected to choose two of the three companies to go ahead and build their lander, reflecting the approach that the space agency does. has used to hire freight companies and is currently astronauts to the International Space Station. Two options offer competition that helps to reduce costs and provide backups in the event of a system failure.
When it comes to choosing SpaceX only, NASA officials seem to be saying that they believe Musk’s company can deliver an ambitious spaceship design, a larger and much more capable spacecraft. what NASA really needs. Indeed, once Starship goes live, it raises the question of why NASA needs a Space Launch System missile.
Each launch of the Space Launch System is expected to cost more than $ 1 billion. Since Starship is designed to be completely reusable, it costs a lot less.
Artemis’ plans are now calling for astronauts to orbit the Space Launch System’s rocket. The rocket’s upper stage is then to push the Orion capsule, where the astronauts will sit, towards the moon.
Unlike NASA’s Moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s, an amphibious spacecraft will be sent separately to orbit the Moon. Orion will dock with a landing craft, which will then enter the water.
But Starship will be smaller in size than Orion, making the architecture similar to sailing across the Atlantic and then switching to cruise ships for the short voyage into the port.
In principle, Starship can take astronauts from Earth to the Moon without any complicated assembly.
A Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa, bought a flight around the moon on Starship. That trip, which could happen as early as 2023, will only cross the moon and not land.
SpaceX conducted a series of altitude tests on the Starship prototypes at its site in the southernmost tip of Texas, not far outside Brownsville, to finalize how the spacecraft would return to Earth. SpaceX has made great progress with crunches to slow the fall, but the tests so far have ended explosive.
Mr. Musk recently pledged that the spacecraft will be ready to send humans to space by 2023, even though he has a track record of over-advertising and underfunding in missile development schedules.
However, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has become the horse of American and international spacecraft with its reusable booster stage. The company has twice sent astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and is expected to put a third crew there on Thursday.
Many private satellite operators have relied on companies to transport their payloads into orbit. And another company, Astrobotic, announced this week that it had chosen a larger SpaceX rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to carry a NASA expeditionary called the VIPER to the south pole of the moon in search of ice. in the coming years.