Featured Image Source: SpaceX
It has been fifty years since humans traveled to the moon during NASA’s Apollo missions. The agency announced, “NASA is on track for sustainable human exploration of the Moon for the first time in history.” The new space program is called Artemis – in Greek mythology she the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the Moon. Today, April 30, NASA announced it awarded three contracts to develop human landing systems to launch the first woman and next man to the moon’s surface by the year 2024. The three American companies that earned a contract are SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stated:
“With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface. This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program.”
SpaceX won an Artemis contract valued at $135 million to develop a lunar optimized version of Starship to conduct crewed missions. A digital depiction of the new spacecraft was released today (pictured above).
"SpaceX has been selected to develop a lunar optimized Starship to transport crew between lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program!"
The aerospace company is in the process of developing its next-generation launch vehicle, Starship. It is a two-stage vehicle consisting of a spaceship to carry up to 100 passengers, plus tons of cargo; And a massive rocket booster called Super Heavy, required to take the craft out of Earth’s atmosphere. Starship is rapidly under development at SpaceX South Texas facilities located in Boca Chica Beach, TX. A stainless-steel prototype of Starship, referred to as SN4, is undergoing pre-flight preparations to conduct a test flight next month. Engineers will attempt to fly the test vehicle 150-meters high, and perform a controlled landing. If successful, the next prototype will conduct a high-altitude flight.
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 pic.twitter.com/Zpkldayy85— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 30, 2020
The original Starship features aerodynamic flaps and fins; the lunar optimized version of Starship will feature several design changes. – "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 wrote. "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 Moon base."
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. “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,” Bridenstine said, “The proposal included an in-space propellant transfer demonstration and uncrewed test landing.” SpaceX will develop Starship and conduct a demonstration test flight to land on the moon. The company will autonomously operate the vehicle to orbit and conduct an orbital refueling in space. Based on Starship’s original design, the orbital refueling feat, could require another Starship vehicle to carry propellant.
"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 detailed in a press release. "We are on our way. With these awards we begin an exciting partnership with the best of industry to accomplish the nation’s goals. We have much work ahead, especially over these next critical 10 months. I have high confidence that working with these teammates, we will succeed." Douglas Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington, said in a statement.
SpaceX will launch a variant of Dragon, optimized to carry more than 5 metric tons of cargo to Gateway in lunar orbit https://t.co/NdJaFU1xSD— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 27, 2020
Last month, SpaceX earned a contract to launch cargo missions with a Dragon spacecraft variant (pictured above), to a future Lunar Gateway station that will orbit the moon. Read more: SpaceX earns NASA contract to launch cargo aboard new 'Dragon XL' craft to Lunar Gateway.