On June 8th the U.S. Senate passed a $250 billion U.S. Innovation and Competition Act funding bill to support American technology advancement and science research, the bill allocates $10 billion dollars for NASA. The bill includes an award for SpaceX’s Starship lunar lander development under the Artemis program that is dedicated to returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024. The funding bill now needs to be approved by the U.S. House of Representatives.
The funding includes a $2.9 billion contract NASA awarded to SpaceX on April 16, to develop a Human Landing System (HLS). Under the HLS contract, SpaceX will develop a lunar-optimized Starship capable of landing astronauts and cargo on the lunar surface. NASA selected SpaceX out of a pair of companies that also submitted lunar lander proposals – Dynetics and ‘The National Team’ led by Blue Origin. When the agency only selected SpaceX to develop a lunar lander, Dynetics and The National Team filed protests with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, claiming that there was ‘flaws’ with the selection process and that NASA should have picked two companies as it initially planned. However, the agency was unable to select more than one company because the funding Congress initially provided was only enough to support the development of one spacecraft. If the U.S. House of representatives chamber approves the $10 billion bill for NASA, the agency might select another company to join SpaceX in developing a lunar landers.
“The U.S. Innovation and Competitiveness Act, which includes the NASA authorization bill, is an investment in scientific research and technological innovation that will help ensure the U.S. continues to lead in space and sets us on a path to execute many landings on the Moon in this decade,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson stated, after the U.S. Senate passed the bill on Tuesday, “I applaud the Senate passage of the bill and look forward to working with the House to see it passed into law,” he said.
SpaceX is already working on the development of the Starship launch vehicle at its Starbase facility located in South Texas. Engineers aim to develop a reusable spacecraft capable of transporting 100 passengers or 100 tons of cargo to space destinations. SpaceX is the only company with a Human Landing System proposal capable of launching to orbit towards the Moon, Dynetics and The National Team are only developing lunar landers that will require another rocket to launch towards our celestial neighbor, as pictured below.
All Images Source: NASA