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SpaceX plans to manufacture a fleet of stainless-steel Starships that will enable hundreds of passengers to travel to the Moon and Mars. Engineers are in the initial phase of developing Starship. They are testing prototypes of the spacecraft at the SpaceX South Texas launch facility located in Boca Chica Beach. There will be a couple of Starship variants, one designed for missions to the Red Planet, the other will be a lunar-optimized Starship. SpaceX is working to develop a Starship Lunar Lander for NASA's Artemis program under a contract valued at $135 million.
On October 14, the agency awarded SpaceX a $53.2 million contract to demonstrate how the lunar-optimized Starship will be refueled in space. "NASA has selected Starship for a propellant transfer demonstration! Combining Starship’s rapid reusability with orbital refilling is critical to economically transporting large numbers of crew and cargo to the Moon and Mars," SpaceX announced last week.
NASA has selected Starship for a propellant transfer demonstration! Combining Starship’s rapid reusability with orbital refilling is critical to economically transporting large numbers of crew and cargo to the Moon and Mars https://t.co/a3EZIUoXR7 https://t.co/0YRkVHBrDI— SpaceX (@SpaceX) October 14, 2020
Under the contract, SpaceX will provide NASA with a "large-scale flight demonstration to transfer 10 metric tons of cryogenic propellant, specifically liquid oxygen, between tanks on a Starship vehicle. SpaceX will collaborate with Glenn and Marshall," the agency wrote in a press release. Though, NASA did not provide further details about when the demonstration would take place.
On October 16, SpaceX founder Elon Musk was a guest at a the virtual International Mars Society Convention. During the conference, he held a discussion about Starship. James Burk, Director of Information Technology for the Mars Society asked Musk when SpaceX will attempt to conduct orbital refueling with a Starship vehicle, to which Musk responded that a prototype of the Starship Lunar Lander for NASA should be ready in "two or three years". Musk shared he expects an orbital refueling demonstration to take place in the year 2022 --"we’ve got a shot of doing that in '22," he said.
SpaceX still has a lot of work to do before launching a Starship vehicle to space. The company plans to test launch its first fully-assembled prototype of Starship this month to an altitude of around 15-kilometers and perform a landing. SpaceX will first conduct test flights of prototypes at Boca Chica Beach before launching one to orbit. These test flights will provide engineers with vital data and feedback about Starship's overall design and systems.
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.