SpaceX awarded NASA $ 2.9 billion contract to build moon lander

Elon Musk’s personal space company is developing A giant rocket named starship Take people to Mars one day.

But first, it would leave NASA astronauts on the moon.

NASA announced on Friday that it had awarded a contract SpaceX Using starships to carry astronauts from the moon’s orbit to the lunar surface for $ 2.9 billion.

The contract Expands NASA’s tendency to rely on private companies to haul people, Cargo and robot explorers for space. But it also represents a victory for Mr. Musk in the Battle of Space Billionaires. NASA was one of the contestants for the lunar contract Blue Origin, called Jeffrey P. of the Amazon Bezos has made.

SpaceX now surpasses Blue Origin and other rocket builders, emphasizing how it has become NASA’s most high-profile partner in its human spaceflight program.

When NASA achieves the goal of landing the next astronauts on the moon as part of its Artemis program – now promised by the Biden administration to include the first woman and the first person of color there – they are in a SpaceX vehicle Likely to ride.

“We are confident to help Artemis achieve the mission in partnership with SpaceX,” program manager Lisa Watson-Morgan, who oversees the development of NASA’s landers, said Friday during a telephone news conference. Work towards landing astronauts on the moon to go to Mars for the next giant leap. “

The news of the award was also revealed earlier The washington post.

NASA last year awarded contracts to three companies for initial design work on landers that could take humans to the lunar surface. In addition to SpaceX, NASA selected proposals for Dynamics, Huntsville, Ala. And a defense contractor in Mr. Bezos’s Blue Origin, who had joined the national team with several traditional aerospace companies: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper.

The award is only for the first crew to land, and SpaceX must perform first without landing. “NASA requires a test flight to fully test all systems with their lunar surface landing prior to our formal demonstration mission,” said Ms. Watson-Morgan.

NASA officials said that Blue Origin, Dynamics and other companies would be able to bid for future moon landing missions.

Kathy Lieders, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, called it the “best strategy” for NASA at the moment to award a company a contract, and then begin discussions with the industry about additional competition for further How to develop A future service contract. “

President Donald J. to send President Biden astronauts back to the moon. Retains plans launched under Trump. but while Mr. Trump promises to return by 2024, program not considered realistic After not providing the funding requested by Congress, and NASA is now reevaluating the schedule.

The NASA Artemis program is expected to launch its first unannounced journey later this year or early next year, using a powerful rocket called the Space Launch System to disperse the Orion capsule, where the future The astronauts will be sitting on the moon and the moon’s journey. back. Rocket booster stage Passed an important ground test last month.

The spacecraft that will land astronauts on the moon, NASA expected it would pick two of the three companies to go ahead and build its landers, with the space agency looking at hiring companies to pick up cargo And now the space station to bring astronauts internationally. Two options provide competition that helps keep costs down, and provides a backup in case One of the systems faces a setback.

NASA officials suggested that the budget shortfall – Congress appointed only one-quarter of the funding in the current fiscal year that Landers requested for development – shaped his decision.

NASA acting administrator Steve Jurczyk said, “We believe that we have what we have and what we can expect in funding”.

In choosing just SpaceX, NASA officials also seem to say that they believe Mr. Musk’s company could deliver on an ambitious spacecraft design, which is far larger and capable than NASA’s. Indeed, once the starship starts operating, it will raise questions. Why NASA Needs Space Launch System Rocket.

Each launch of the space launch system is expected to cost more than $ 1 billion. Because the starship is designed to be completely reusable, it will cost very cheaply.

Artemis currently plans to launch in orbit on top of the rocket, a space launch system for astronauts. The rocket’s upper stage is to stretch the Orion capsule, where the astronauts will be sitting, towards the moon.

Unlike NASA’s Apollo Moon missions in the 1960s and 1970s, the lander spacecraft have to be sent to lunar orbit separately. Orion has to dock with the lander, which will then go to the surface.

But the starship would dwarf Orion in size, creating an architecture similar to sailing a yacht across the Atlantic Ocean and then switching to a cruise ship for a short ride into the harbor.

The starship could, in theory, take astronauts all the way from Earth to the moon without docking detailed choreography. The starship will need to be refueled with methane and liquid oxygen in orbit.

A Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa has bought a moon flight on Starship. The journey, which could have taken place by 2023, would only pass through the moon and not the land.

SpaceX is launching a series of high-altitude tests of the starship prototype at its site at the southern tip of Texas, not outside of Bravesville, to explain how the spacecraft will return to Earth. SpaceX has made a lot of progress with a maneuver of belly-flopping to slow its decline, but the trials so far have all ended explosively.

Mr. Musk recently pledged that the spacecraft would be ready Sending people to space by 2023, Although he has a track record of overpromising and underdeveloping on a rocket development schedule.

Nevertheless, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket with its reusable booster stage has become the domain of American and international spaceflight. The company has twice Astronauts took to the International Space Station for NASA, And is scheduled to call a third crew there on Thursday.

Many private satellite operators have relied on the company to take their payloads into orbit. And another company, Astrobiotic, announced this week that it had picked up a large SpaceX rocket, the Falcon Heavy, To lift A NASA rover is called VIPER At the South Pole of the Moon for the possibility of snow in the coming years.

On Friday, the Biden administration also announced the nomination of former astronaut Pamela Melroy to become NASA’s deputy administrator. last month, Former Florida senator Bill Nelson was named administrator.

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