Elon Musk’s SpaceX may be blowing up Starship prototypes left and right but the company has still managed to snag NASA’s approval for the Artemis lunar program. SpaceX’s Starship human landing system (HLS) is set to function as the Artemis lunar lander, which will land humans on the moon in… a couple of years.
The contract is for a fixed sum and will net Musk’s company a tidy $2.89 billion. That’s about R41 billion in South African money.
Space for SpaceX
This arrangement is a little weird, however. NASA will use its own Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft for the initial launch. Four astronauts will travel, over the course of several days, to the moon. Once there, two astronauts (one of which will be a woman) will transfer to SpaceX’s HLS for descent to the lunar surface.
SpaceX’s lander will take the two astronauts to the lunar surface, where they’ll explore for a week before blasting off to rejoin Orion and head back to Earth. The lander will rely on the company’s “…Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles.” It’ll include a cabin, two airlocks for moonwalks (no, the other kind) and will eventually form the basis for a wholly reusable launch and landing system for lunar (and other) exploration.
Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, said, “With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration. This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”