SpaceX will develop a Lunar optimized Starship to return NASA Astronauts to the Moon

SpaceX will develop a Lunar optimized Starship to return NASA Astronauts to the Moon

Featured Image Source: SpaceX

It has been almost fifty years since humans traveled to the moon. Only 24 humans have visited in history, no humans have returned since 1972. SpaceX is developing the technology that will enable humans to return to the lunar surface. The aerospace company has developed some of the world’s most advanced rockets and spacecraft that have demonstrated reliability to transport cargo and astronauts to orbit. SpaceX’s incredible track record landed it a deal under NASA’s Artemis program to develop a lunar optimized Starship to transport crew between lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon. “Last year, NASA announced Starship as eligible for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative – to deliver payloads between Earth and the Moon, and to enable humans to return to the Moon,” SpaceX stated.

NASA’s Artemis program aims to launch the first woman and next man to the moon’s surface by 2024. The Artemis contract SpaceX earned is valued at $135 million to develop a lunar optimized version of Starship to conduct crewed missions. “The SpaceX human lander design is a single-stage solution with Starship, their fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars and beyond,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said earlier this year, “The proposal included an in-space propellant transfer demonstration and uncrewed test landing.” 

“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,” NASA detailed in a press release.

Engineers are working around-the-clock to develop Starship at the company’s facility located in South Texas at Boca Chica Beach. It will be a gigantic two-stage launch vehicle, consisting of a spacecraft (Starship) and a Super Heavy rocket booster that will propel it outside of Earth’s atmosphere. Starship will be capable of transporting 100 passengers and tons of cargo.

SpaceX is designing several versions of the spacecraft: A Starship “Lunar Lander”, a Starship designed for trips to Mars; also, a “Crew Configuration” and “Cargo Configuration”.

The lunar optimized Starship will be capable of flying out of the moon’s atmosphere with relative ease, therefore, a Super Heavy rocket will not be required on its surface. A notable difference between the Mars Starship versus the lunar optimized Starship is that it does not feature the aerodynamic fins, nor an extra heat-shield coat like the Mars’ vehicle design. – “A lunar optimized Starship can fly many times between the surface of the Moon and lunar orbit without flaps or heat shielding required for Earth return,” SpaceX said. “With large habitable and storage volume, Starship is capable of delivering significant amounts of cargo for research and to support robust operations on the lunar surface to enable a sustainable Moonbase.”

The founder and Chief Engineer at SpaceX Elon Musk explained how Starship would need to undergo modifications to land on the moon, differing from the Mars Starship version, “We’re working on new legs. Wider stance and able to auto-level. Important for leaning into wind or landing on rocky and pitted surfaces,” he said. – “No need to bring early ships back. They can serve as part of moon base alpha,” he added. The Starship lunar lander also features 'forward thrusters', “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,” Musk explained.

Multiple stainless-steel prototypes are under assembly to conduct test flights in South Texas. Engineers aim to make flying and landing test vehicles routine before launching a Starship to orbit.

The company is working on a tight schedule; the President of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell told reporters last year that they aim to launch Starship to the moon in a couple of years. – “We definitely want to land it on the Moon before 2022. We want to… stage cargo there to make sure that there are resources for the [NASA] folks that ultimately land on the Moon by 2024, if things go well, so that’s the aspirational time frame,” she said.

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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