Featured Image Source: NASA PDF Document
NASA selected SpaceX to develop a Starship Human Landing System (HLS) to land astronauts on the Moon by 2025. Humanity has not returned to the Moon in half a century. NASA's Artemis program aims to build a base on the Moon's South Pole. SpaceX is working on the lunar-optimized Starship development at its Starbase facility located in Boca Chica Village, Texas. The company already conducted multiple test flights and is preparing to perform the first orbital Starship flight which will provide insight to improve the spacecraft design.
NASA released a new document that features photos of SpaceX Starship lunar lander elevator & airlock prototype. SpaceX says it is "working with NASA to ensure crew safety and performance." The elevator will be used to bring astronauts down to the lunar surface. The document is a set of presentation slides with images of Artemis astronauts checking out the elevator and airlock, including an image labeled "Crew cabin VR evaluation". It is probably a Virtual Reality (VR) video simulator of how the Starship cabin interior will look like and operate. The document does not provide elaborate information, nor technical details about the systems.
NASA Artemis plans to use its Space Launch System (SLS) and SpaceX Starship HLS to return humans to the Moon. Before launching humans, NASA will conduct the Artemis I mission which will be an uncrewed flight test of the SLS/Orion vehicle scheduled for May this year. Then NASA plans to launch the Artemis II mission in 2022; It will be the first crewed demonstration flight of SLS/Orion around the Moon. After those demo missions are successful, NASA will conduct the Artemis III mission which will land a pair of astronauts on the lunar surface. Initially, NASA planned to conduct the first crewed lunar landing in 2024 but it has been delayed until 2025 due to a variety of factors, including the Coronavirus pandemic.
The document also features a graphic of the Artemis III concept of operations, pictured below. The graphic pictured below outlines how NASA plans to use the Orion Space Launch System and SpaceX Starship to return humanity to the Moon. During the crewed Artemis III mission, the Space Launch System rocket will lift off from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida to launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for a multi-day journey to lunar orbit. Simultaneously, SpaceX will launch Starship HLS, alongside a fleet of uncrewed Starship 'fuel tanker' vehicles from Starbase at Boca Chica, Texas. The vehicles will be filled with cryogenic propellant for in-orbit refueling of the HLS spacecraft. Starship is fueled with a combination of cryogenic liquid methane and liquid oxygen. SpaceX will launch a Starship to serve as a propellant depot in low Earth orbit and multiple Starships that will serve as tankers to deliver propellant to the stainless-steel depot vehicle that will be orbiting our planet. Then the Starship HLS will launch to low Earth orbit where it will dock to the depot and receive propellant.
Once fueled, HLS will initiate the voyage to lunar orbit 240,000 miles away from Earth, where it will wait for the astronauts aboard Orion to arrive. Once Starship and Orion are both in lunar orbit, Orion will dock with the Starship HLS nose cone docking port to allow 2 of the 4 astronauts to enter Starship. Then Orion will undock and Starship HLS will land on the Lunar South Pole and the first woman and next man will explore the Moon for around a week and collect samples while Orion remains in lunar orbit with the other two astronauts monitoring the mission. To return to Earth, Starship HLS will lift off from the moon's surface and meet Orion in lunar orbit again. Orion will dock with Starship and the astronauts return to Orion. The Orion spacecraft will transport the astronauts home with a traditional parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean that will ensure the astronauts' safety.
All Images Source: NASA & SpaceX