Elon Musk’s SpaceX has won a $2.9-billion contract to develop the company’s Starship rocket as a lunar lander and carry astronauts on Artemis moon missions, NASA announced Friday.
In selecting only SpaceX for the lunar program, NASA ended consideration of Musk’s rival, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin space company, and a third proposal by Huntsville, Alabama-based Dynetics.
The award cements SpaceX’s role as the dominant company in a new era of space exploration. The decision also clarifies how NASA plans to accomplish new lunar missions – using the shiny stainless steel Starship as a spacecraft and lander rolled into one reusable vehicle.
NASA had planned to send people to the moon by 2024, but agency officials have acknowledged that timeline wasn’t possible because Congress hadn’t provided adequate funding for the human lander system.
NASA sought over $4 billion the last two years to fund lunar landers, but received only about $1.45 billion.
That doesn’t necessarily mean astronauts won’t set foot on the moon by 2024, acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said in a press conference Friday at Kennedy Space Center.
“The NASA team will have insight into the progress that SpaceX is making, and if they’re hitting their milestones, we may still have a shot at 2024,” Jurczyk said.
In the next few years, NASA will require SpaceX to conduct a demonstration flight and landing on the moon, NASA officials said.
Eventually, SpaceX would meet NASA’s Orion capsule, which would be launched on NASA’s SLS moon rocket, in orbit around the moon. NASA didn’t require a launch location for SpaceX’s Starship. SOVEREIGNPH