NASA signs billionaire contract with SpaceX for second lunar landing

The unmanned Artemis 1 mission is not yet complete, and NASA is already working on future missions for its new lunar and space exploration program after the Apollo era, which ended in 1972.

Artemis 1 What are NASA's plans
The launch of Artemis Flight 1, the first mission of NASA’s new lunar exploration program, took place in the early hours of Wednesday (16). Image: NASA TV

And we are not talking about Artemis 2, a manned mission that will repeat the path of the current one, nor about Artemis 3, through which the vehicle complex Space Launch System (SLS) will launch the Orion capsule to finally land astronauts on the Moon for the first time in over half a century.

The agency already has its eye on the Artemis 4 mission, which will not be carried out by its mighty 98-meter-tall, 2,600-ton megarocket, but by another colossal vehicle that will be even more powerful: the Starship, from SpaceX. , 120 meters long.

Last Tuesday (15), NASA announced a change to the contract signed with Elon Musk’s company in April, which originally consisted of 2.9 billion dollars (more than 15.5 billion reais) for the development of Human Landing (HLS).

With this top-up in the agreement, the US space agency will invest another 1.5 billion dollars (about 8 billion reais) in what is being treated as “Option B”. According to the website Room NewsOption B covers Starship Moon Lander upgrades and also includes a second manned landing mission.

Spacecraft, SpaceX spacecraft, on the Moon, painted by NASA
Artist’s rendering of a SpaceX starship with the NASA decal on the lunar surface. Image: SpaceX

“Continuing our collaboration with SpaceX via Option B reinforces our resilient plans for regular manned transportation to the lunar surface and establishing a long-term human presence under Artemis,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at SpaceX. announcement. “This critical work will help us focus on developing durable, serviceable lunar landers anchored to NASA’s requirements for regular return missions to the lunar surface.”

Until then, the Artemis 4 mission was only intended for the work of building the Lunar Gateway space station and did not include a landing.

SpaceX prepares for Starship test flight

SpaceX continues preparations for Starship’s first orbital launch attempt at its test site at Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. During a static fire test conducted on Monday (14), 14 of the vehicle’s 33 Super Heavy Propeller Raptor engines ignited.

According to the website space.comit is assumed that SpaceX will continue to increase this number of static launches, eventually firing all 33 engines of the Booster 7 model.

According to Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for the development of the Artemis program, NASA is closely following this entire process, which will culminate in the first orbital flight test of Starship, which for the agency is considered one of the milestones in the development of the lunar spacecraft version.

This test flight will lift off from Starbase and send the Model Ship 24 capsule on an orbital journey that will end with a landing dive in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Booster 7 is expected to land in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas shortly after launch.

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But for all this to be possible, you must first wait for the issuance of the launch license, a document to be issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), without a planned release date.

At the same time, SpaceX is working on building another launch site for Starship. The company is retrofitting the historic LC39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to accommodate launches of its megarocket, which will be the largest and most powerful spacecraft ever launched.

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