Elon Musk’s private space company is developing a giant rocket called Starship to one day transport humans to Mars.
But first, it will leave NASA astronauts on the moon.
NASA announced on Friday that it had awarded SpaceX a $ 2.9 billion contract to use Starship to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon.
The contract extends the tendency of NASA to rely on private companies to transport humans, cargo and robot spacecraft into space. But that’s something like a victory for Musk in the battle of space billionaires. One of the competitors to NASA’s lunar contract was Blue Origin, created by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
SpaceX now surpasses Blue Origin այլ other rocket builders, highlighting how it has become a top-level partner of NASA in the human spaceflight program.
When NASA achieves the next astronaut landing on the Moon, now promised by the Biden administration, as part of its Artemis program, where it will introduce the first woman and the first colored face, they will most likely sit in the SpaceX car.
“We are confident that NASA is working with SpaceX to help us reach the Artemis mission,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s program manager who oversaw the landers, at a news conference on Friday. “We look forward to continuing our work to land the astronauts on the Moon in preparation for the next giant flight to Mars.”
The news of the award was previously reported in The Washington Post.
Last year, NASA awarded contracts to three companies for pre-design landings that could move humans to the moon. In addition to SpaceX, NASA has selected bids from Dynetics in Haltsville, Alabama’s defense contractor և Bezos’s Blue Origin, which has joined its National Team from several traditional aerospace companies: Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman և Draper :
The prize is for the first crew landing, and SpaceX must first make an unannounced landing. “NASA requires a test flight to fully test all systems landing on the moon before our official demonstration mission,” said Watson-Morgan.
NASA officials say Blue Origin, Dynetics and other companies will be able to apply for future lunar landing missions.
Katie Luders, NASA’s human intelligence and operations associate, now called it “the best strategy” for NASA to award a one-company contract “and then start discussions with the industry on how to further develop additional competition there for future services.” :
President Biden supports plans to send astronauts to the moon under President Donald Trump. But while Trump promised to return by 2024, the schedule was not considered realistic after Congress failed to provide the required funding, and NASA is now reassessing the schedule.
NASA’s Artemis program is expected to launch its first unmanned mission later this year or early next year, using a powerful rocket called the Space Launch System – its main phase built by Boeing to propel the Orion capsule. , where future astronauts will sit. , with direction to the moon:. Last month, the rocket launch phase went through a ground test.
For the spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon, NASA was expected to select two of the three companies to move forward and build landings, looking at the approach the space agency used to hire companies to transport cargo, and now to astronauts. Space Station. Both options provide competition, which helps reduce costs է provides backup in case one of the systems backs down.
NASA officials assumed that the budget restrictions. During the current fiscal year, Congress appropriated only a quarter of the funding required for landscape development, shaping their decision.
“We believe that this is possible within the limits of what we have, and what we can expect in terms of funding,” said Steve Urchick, acting director of NASA.
By simply choosing SpaceX, NASA officials seem to be saying that they believe Muskie can design an ambitious spacecraft that is much larger and more capable than NASA really needs. Indeed, as soon as Starship launches, it will raise the question of why NASA needs the Space Launch System rocket at all.
Each launch of the space shuttle is expected to cost more than $ 1 billion. Because Starship is designed to be completely reusable, it will cost much less.
Artemis is currently planning for astronauts to orbit the Space Launch System rocket. The top stage of the rocket is to push the Orion capsule back to the moon.
Unlike NASA’s Apollo lunar mission in the 1960s and ’70s, the landing spacecraft had to be sent into lunar orbit separately. Orion is a port with a harbor that will come to the surface later.
But the Starship will make the size of the Orion a dwarf, making the architecture look like a yacht sailing across the Atlantic and then a port for navigation.
The source can, in principle, take astronauts from Earth to the Moon without the equally complex choreography of the port. Starship must be filled with methane և liquid oxygen in orbit.
Japanese wealthy billionaire Yusaku Maezawa bought a flight with Starship around the moon. That journey, which could have taken place before 2023, would have only passed by the moon, not landed.
SpaceX has launched a series of high-altitude Starship prototype tests in its area south of Texas, not far from Brownsville, to return the spacecraft to Earth. SpaceX has made great strides in slowing down the abdomen by slowing it down, but so far the tests have been explosive.
Musk recently promised that the spacecraft would be ready to fly people into space by 2023, although he has experience of overestimating the rocket timetable առաք low delivery.
However, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket has become the working horse of American և international spaceflight, with its reusable phase being strengthened. The company twice transported the astronauts to NASA International Space Station, and on Thursday it is planned to transport the third crew there.
Many private satellite operators have relied on the company to orbit their cargo. And another company, Astrobotic, announced this week that it has taken on a larger SpaceX rocket, the Falcon Heavy, to move NASA’s VIPER raver to the Moon’s south pole to see ice in the coming years.
On Friday, the Biden administration announced the nomination of former astronaut Pamela Melro to become the Deputy Administrator of NASA. Former Florida Sen. Bill Nelson was appointed administrator last month.