NASA's SpaceX Starship Lunar Lander is under development in South Texas

NASA's SpaceX Starship Lunar Lander is under development in South Texas

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NASA Artemis program targets to take astronauts to the Moon by the year 2024. The agency formed partnerships with several private American companies to achieve this ambitious mission. The agency awarded contracts to three aerospace companies last year to develop a Human Landing System (HLS) to take astronauts to the moon. Blue Origin received $567 million to develop the 'Blue Moon' lander, Dynetics earned $253 million to develop its vehicle, and SpaceX received $135 million to develop a lunar-optimized variant of its Starship spacecraft. “NASA’s commercial partners will refine their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021. During that time, the agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions,” the agency said in a press release last year. SpaceX is developing the lunar-optimized Starship at the South Texas Launch Facility located at Boca Chica Beach. The first prototype of the lander is already under construction there; the vehicle is color white and features NASA’s red retro ‘worm’ logo with the American flag.

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The Starship lunar lander has significant design changes, very different than the spacecraft’s original design. The Earth-to-Mars Starship is equipped with aerodynamic fins/flaps needed for planets with atmospheres and the Earth-to-Moon Starship lander will not have fins because the lunar surface does not have wind nor a thick atmosphere. Also, SpaceX does not plan to return lunar Starships to Earth, instead, the spacecraft will be utilized to transport cargo to and from orbit. “Forward thrusters are to stabilize ship when landing in high winds. If goal is max payload to moon per ship, no heatshield or flaps or big gas thruster packs are needed [on the lunar Starship]. No need to bring early ships back. They can serve as part of moon base alpha,” the founder of SpaceX Elon Musk said in June.

This week talented animators who go by the names @ErcXspace and @smvllstvrs via Twitter, shared an amazing video rendition of the Starship lunar lander launching from Boca Chica Beach, shown below. In the video they created Starship is propelled to orbit by the powerful Super Heavy rocket booster. The reusable booster returns to Earth as Starship embarks on a voyage to the Moon. The video also demonstrates an orbital-refueling operation in space, SpaceX plans to refuel Starship using another Starship vehicle. The inspiring animation caught Musk’s eye, he responded –“T/W [thrust-to-weight ratio] will be ~1.5, so it will accelerate unusually fast. High T/W is important for reusable vehicles to make more efficient use of propellant, the primary cost. For expendable rockets, throwing away stages is the primary cost, so optimization is low T/W,” he wrote in response to the video. 

In October, NASA 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. 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 […]” NASA said.

Starship Lunar Lander Animation 


About the Author

Evelyn Arevalo

Evelyn Arevalo

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.

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