SpaceX: NASA selects Elon Musk’s company to build the ship with which it will return to the Moon

SpaceX NASA selects Elon Musk Return Moon

The United States Aerospace Agency, NASA, selected Elon Musk’s company SpaceX to build the spacecraft with which it plans to return humans to the Moon this decade.

The vehicle will transport the next man and the first woman to the lunar surface, according to the space agency’s Artemis program.

Another goal of the program will be to take the first person of color to the Moon.

The lunar rover design is based on SpaceX’s Starship, which is being tested at an experimental station in South Texas.

SpaceX was competing against a joint tender made up of traditional aerospace giants and Jeff Bezos’ company Amazon, as well as a proposal from Dynetics, an Alabama-based technology company.

The total value of the contract awarded to Musk’s company is $2.89 billion.

“With this selection, NASA and our partners will complete the first manned demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency steps forward toward women’s equality and long-term exploration of the world. deep space, “said Kathy Lueders, the agency’s director of human exploration.

“This critical step sets humanity on the path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps us focused on the furthest missions in the Solar System, including Mars.”

Illustration of an astronaut on the moon
Caption,This artistic interpretation illustrates NASA’s desire not only to return to the Moon in this decade, but to create a stay on the satellite.

The Artemis program, launched during the Donald Trump administration, aimed to return to the lunar surface in 2024. But a budget deficit to finance the moon landing system has pushed that goal away.

Elon Musk has been developing the Starship design for years. Akin to rockets from the golden age of sci-fi movies, it’s a crucial element in the billionaire businessman’s long-term plans to populate Mars with humans.

For now, however, it will serve as a lunar landing module that will transport astronauts from a lunar orbit to the surface of the satellite.

With a wide cockpit and two decompression chambers, which will allow the astronauts to exit for their moonwalks, it is very different from the skeletal lunar module (ML) that put 12 men on the Moon with the US Apollo program between 1969 and 1972.

The new vehicle will be known as the Human Landing System (HLS).

In recent times, NASA had chosen more than one company to obtain transportation services, giving it options in case one of these did not meet the objectives.

But NASA only received $850 million of the $3.3 billion it requested from Congress to build the lunar lander. In a statement, Lueders said that “while the agency’s desire continues to be to preserve a competitive environment during this stage of the HLS program,” its current budget prevented it from selecting two companies, as expected.

Cost is believed to have been an important factor; SpaceX’s bid was the lowest “by a wide margin” among the three competitors.

Lueders explained: “I determined that it would be in the best interest of the agency to make this conditional initial selection of SpaceX.”

The decision has caused a stir in Congress.

NASA undergoes a transition of power following the election of President Joe Biden. It is being run by an interim administrator and the one appointed by Biden to head the agency – former senator and ex-astronaut Bill Nelson – will have to be confirmed by hearings in Congress next week.

“I am disappointed that NASA’s interim leadership decided to award such a commission prior to the arrival of the new and permanent NASA manager and deputy manager,” said Democratic Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, who chairs the House Committee on Science. , Space and Technology.

“The decision to award the commission today also comes despite the obvious need to reexamine NASA’s lunar exploration program, which has no real chance of returning US astronauts to the Moon by 2024.”

The south polar region of the Moon will be NASA’s target for the first astronaut landing since 1972. This area contains abundant deposits of frozen water, which could be converted into rocket fuel and fresh air to support a future lunar base.

But landing there also presents challenges, because the angle of the sun casts long shadows that obscure the surface topography as the spacecraft descends.

The engineers will have to solve the problem as they refine their plans for the first landing of the Artemis program.

SpaceX was in the running against the National Team – made up of Blue Origin (founded by Bezos), Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Daper – and defense project contractors Dynetics.

The commission represents another milestone for the company founded 19 years ago by Musk, which had to overcome initial broad skepticism about its plans to cut the costs of space flight. SpaceX narrowly ran out of money, but managed to stay afloat thanks to a serendipitous NASA contract in 2008.

Lunar module
Caption,The Starship’s design is far from the skeletal lunar module used in the Apollo program’s moon landings.

Since then, he has achieved enormous success with the launch of commercial satellites and obtained a lucrative contract to transport crew members to the International Space Station.

The Starship vehicle is currently undergoing testing at a facility in Boca Chica, South Texas. A number of unmanned prototypes have been launched to altitudes of 10 km or more, before being returned for a smooth descent and landing attempt. However, the latest tests have ended with the vehicles exploding, either near or on the descent platform.

“This is an exciting time for NASA and especially for the Artemis team,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program director for the Human Landing System at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

“During the Apollo program, we found that it is possible to achieve what seemed impossible: bringing humans to the surface of the Moon. Through a collaborative strategy, working with industry and taking advantage of NASA’s proven technical capabilities and expertise, we will bring American astronauts to the surface of the Moon once more, this time to explore new areas for longer periods of time. “

The Artemis program seeks to establish a long-term presence on the Moon, including the creation of a lunar base.