NASA asks SpaceX for a new spacecraft

NASA has just awarded a new envelope of $1.15 billion to SpaceX to develop an improved version of its Starship lunar lander and carry out a second manned mission.

In April 2021, NASA set its sights on SpaceX to develop the lander responsible for depositing the next humans on the Moon. This return will be on Artemis 3, which could not be launched until 2028. As part of this $2.9 billion contract, which includes the Starship spacecraft, the two parties had signed a modification last March involving an “Option B “. Specifically, this option covers future upgrades of the Starship lander for that purpose support more ambitious missions.

The option also includes a second manned landing mission. A priori, NASA would like to use it for Artemis 4. Initially, this mission should focus only on the assembly of the future station in lunar orbit and not include a landing. This flight was ultimately to be more ambitious than Artemis 3, carrying more astronauts over a longer period of time, hence the need for an “upgraded” ship. In other words, SpaceX must chain normally the next two human landings on the Moon. The first will be with a “classic” Starship, while the next will be in an upgraded vehicle.

Continuing our collaboration with SpaceX via Option B strengthens our resilient plans for regular crew transport to the lunar surface and establishing a long-term human presence under Artemis.“, said Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA HLS program manager.

The starship closed on its Super Heavy launcher. Credit: SpaceX

A first big step on the way

NASA also plans to rely on another service provider for its future lunar landings. This company should perform its demonstration mission as soon as possible on Artemis 5, which is likely in the early 2030s a priori. NASA is currently inviting submissions through December 6. The agency plans to announce its selection in June 2023. A priori, it should focus on Blue Origin to satisfy the US Congress.

Meanwhile, SpaceX continues preparations for the first orbital launch of its Starship spacecraft from Texas. In a static launch test conducted on November 14, the company managed to roar fourteen of the thirty-three Raptor engines that will power the vehicle’s Super Heavy booster.

At an Oct. 31 meeting of the NASA Advisory Board’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, Mark Kirasich, deputy assistant administrator for Artemis Campaign Development at NASA, said that The starship’s first orbital launch attempt may take place in December.

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