NASA Awards SpaceX Over $50 Million For A Starship Orbital Refueling Demonstration

NASA Awards SpaceX Over $50 Million For A Starship Orbital Refueling Demonstration

Featured Image Source: Created By @ErcXspace Via Twitter

NASA plans to establish a sustainable presence on the moon under the Artemis program starting in the year 2024. On April 16, the agency announced it awarded SpaceX a $2.89 billion Human Landing System (HLS) contract to develop a Starship variant to land astronauts on the lunar surface. SpaceX won the contract against two bidders, Blue Origin and Dynetics. Both companies filed protests with the U.S. Government Accountability Office against NASA because it only selected SpaceX to develop the spacecraft that will return Americans to the moon. SpaceX is the only company that is offering a lunar lander with the capability of traveling to the moon carrying hundreds of passengers and tons of cargo. The company also has a working prototype of the spacecraft, unlike its competitors. SpaceX is actively developing Starship at its facility in South Texas where multiple stainless-steel prototypes have performed high-altitude flight tests.


A new financial document was published on the U.S. Federal Government website this month that reveals NASA Marshall Spaceflight Center already awarded SpaceX over $50 million (total contract value: $50,450,000.00) as part of the HLS contract for a Starship orbital refueling demonstration. The contract was signed on May 4th, specifically for an “on-orbit large scale cryogenic propellant management and transfer demonstration” that is set to be completed by the end of 2022. Under the contract, SpaceX will demonstrate how the methane-fueled Starship launch system is capable of being refueled in Low Earth Orbit. The company aims to refuel the spacecraft connected back-to-back with another Starship that will carry propellant, as depicted in the image above. NASA says that SpaceX will conduct 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” space centers, the agency shared.

Source: / photographer @JaneidyEve via Twitter


SpaceX says the lunar-optimized Starship will be capable of flying “many times between the surface of the Moon and lunar orbit without flaps or heat shielding required for Earth return.” So, this variant of Starship will not feature the aerodynamic flaps like its Mars and Earth-to-Earth vehicle design because the moon does not have a thick atmosphere, nor windy environment. The lunar lander will look like the render shown below that company released earlier this month. SpaceX has a mock-up of NASA's Starship lunar lander nose cone at its Starbase assembly facility, a TESMANIAN correspondent captured a photograph of the vehicle, shown above. SpaceX has not launched a Starship to space yet, the company’s founder Elon Musk aims to conduct the first orbital test flight this Summer. Ambitiously, he aims to launch a Starship from Boca Chica in South Texas to orbit Earth -then land it off the coast of Hawaii! SpaceX is already seeking approval for this flight from U.S. regulatory agencies. Read more in the previous TESMANIAN article: SpaceX Plans To Fly Starship From Texas To Hawaii During First Orbital Flight

Image Source: SpaceX 

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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