NASA selects SpaceX Starship to ferry next humans to the Moon
NASA has awarded SpaceX a contract to develop the lunar lander for the Artemis program, which will ferry humans to and from the surface of the Moon in 2024. SpaceX’s Starship prototype beat out competing companies Blue Origin and Dynetics for the job.
The ambitious Artemis program will see humans not only return to the Moon for the first time in 50 years, but set up a more permanent presence there. NASA’s gigantic Space Launch System (SLS) will take off from Earth, carrying four astronauts onboard the Orion spacecraft to cislunar orbit. Once there, half of the crew would transfer to a separate craft, the human landing system (HLS), to take them to the lunar surface and back.
To help with that last part, NASA put out the call for private companies to pitch their lander concepts, last year narrowing the field down to SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics. And now, after careful consideration the agency has selected SpaceX’s design, awarding Elon Musk’s company a US$2.89-billion contract.
SpaceX’s winning design is a version of its Starship craft, powered by its Raptor engines and complete with a “spacious” cabin and two airlocks. The HLS Starship will initially carry two astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface, where they would stay there for about a week, before launching back to Orion in orbit.
SpaceX has demonstrated the potential of Starship over the last few years with a series of test flights and landing attempts. After two previous prototypes exploded on impact, prototype SN10 finally touched down successfully in March this year – although it did explode a few minutes later.
The company has been developing Starship with its sights firmly set on Mars, but now it looks like there will be another stop along the way.
Currently, NASA has penciled in November 2021 for the launch of Artemis I, an uncrewed test flight around the Moon. Longer term, a Gateway outpost is planned to be placed in lunar orbit to act as a deep space hub for astronauts and spacecraft bound for the Moon or Mars.
NASA outlines SpaceX’s design in the video below.