On Wednesday, March 23rd, NASA announced it awarded SpaceX a second Artemis program mission to land astronauts on the Moon with the Starship Human Landing System (HLS). The first crewed mission to the lunar surface will be Artemis III, NASA selected SpaceX in April 2021 as its partner to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface. "That demonstration mission is targeted for no earlier than April 2025," the agency said. "Exercising an option under the original award, NASA now is asking SpaceX to transform the company’s proposed human landing system into a spacecraft that meets the agency’s requirements for recurring services for a second demonstration mission. Pursuing more development work under the original contract maximizes NASA’s investment and partnership with SpaceX," wrote NASA in a press release.
During the Artemis III mission, NASA plans to propel four astronauts to orbit aboard its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule. Orion will ferry the crew to lunar orbit where SpaceX's Starship HLS will be waiting; Orion will dock to HLS and a pair of astronauts will get inside Starship’s cabin to land on the Moon, while the other crewmates monitor operations in lunar orbit aboard Orion. After astronauts complete their week-long lunar exploration activities, they will lift off aboard Starship HLS from the moon's surface to lunar orbit where Orion will dock with HLS and the crew will head back to Earth aboard Orion. The capsule will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere with a parachute-assisted splashdown in the ocean.
Before Artemis III happens, NASA will test SLS/Orion during the Artemis I and Artemis II test missions. Artemis I is scheduled for June and Artemis II until 2024. Meanwhile, SpaceX is also preparing to conduct the first orbital flight test of Starship. Company leaders are confident that Starship will reach orbit by the year 2023 and plan to conduct a private civilian spaceflight (not contracted by NASA) around the Moon as soon as the spacecraft is ready.
NASA announced today that it plans to fund the development of another American spacecraft to build a sustainable human lunar presence under a Sustaining Lunar Development contract. The agency will open applications for U.S. companies to submit their lunar lander proposals over the Summer. “This strategy expedites progress toward a long-term, sustaining lander capability as early as the 2026 or 2027 timeframe,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System Program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “We expect to have two companies safely carry astronauts in their landers to the surface of the Moon under NASA’s guidance before we ask for services, which could result in multiple experienced providers in the market.” SpaceX will not be eligible to apply for the Sustaining Lunar Development contract, however, NASA plans to expand SpaceX's HLS award (called 'Option B') to fund development of upgrades to SpaceX’s lunar-optimized Starship and perform a second crewed demonstration mission to the Moon after the Artemis III mission.
Featured Image Source: SpaceX