SpaceX earns $53 Million NASA contract to demonstrate Starship refueling in space

by Evelyn Arevalo October 14, 2020

SpaceX earns $53 Million NASA contract to demonstrate Starship refueling in space

Starship Refueling Digital Illustration Created By: Erc X @ErcXspace via Twitter

NASA aspires to establish a sustainable presence on the moon under the Artemis program. The agency announced today, October 14, it is investing $370 million on companies in the United States to develop "Tipping Point" technologies that will enable America to travel to the lunar surface frequently. --"We selected 14 U.S. companies across 9 states, including several small businesses, as partners to demonstrate and mature space tech that will help forge a path to sustainable Artemis operations on the Moon..." NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced.



The contracts awarded involve the development of technologies for "three solicitation topic areas of cryogenic fluid management, lunar surface, and closed-loop descent and landing capability demonstrations," the agency stated. SpaceX won a $53.2 million contract to demonstrate how 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 today.



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.

"[...] When we think about companies like SpaceX and the Starship their architecture is heavily reliant on the ability to transfer cryogenics on low earth orbit for the purpose of taking a system all the way to the Moon," Bridenstine said during the NASA Lunar Surface Consortium announcement, "Their system in fact doesn't appear to require a fuel depot around the Moon, their system would require a fuel depot in orbit around the Earth."



SpaceX is working to develop a lunar-optimized variant of the Starship launch vehicle for NASA's Artemis program, to transport crew between lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon, pictured above. The company is actively developing Starship in South Texas at Boca Chica Beach, where multiple stainless-steel prototypes are under assembly. Engineers will soon test a full-scale Starship prototype, referred to as SN8, it will conduct a high-altitude test flight of around 50,000 feet (15-kilometers) and attempt a landing.

NASA did not provide a specific timeline of when the Starship refueling demonstration would be, "As far as when they materialize, I don't want to put a date [...]," Bridenstine told reporters today. However, the President of SpaceX Gwynne Shotwell said 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.



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