NASA has reached an agreement with SpaceX for the company to participate in the Artemis 4 mission, scheduled for 2027. This will again be a shuttle between the Moon and space. The US space agency had previously retained SpaceX for a similar task with the Artemis 3 mission.
Day by day, SpaceX is becoming an increasingly important player in the American space conquest. Already involved in the Artemis 3 mission expected in 2025, the airline founded by Elon Musk is now linked to the next mission. This was announced by NASA on November 15, 2022 in a press release.
In this case, SpaceX will have to provide the US space agency with a landing system capable of accommodating a crew to shuttle between the space station around the Moon and the surface of the satellite. SpaceX already has a plan in mind: it will use a modified version of the Starship so that the second stage of the rocket can be used for this task.
The starship HLS, cut for landing astronauts on the Moon
This version of the Starship is called the Starship HLS (Human Landing System). It is to be implemented from 2025 for Artémis 3 and in 2027 for Artémis 4. Currently, Starship is still in the development phase. In particular, we expect an orbital flight with the complete launch vehicle. It may take place in 2022.
The agreement between NASA and SpaceX is not exclusive. As specified Bill Nelson, the head of the agency, other groups may also become partners in manufacturing their lunar landers. Just like with access to the ISS, provided by multiple service providers, guaranteeing high availability and good redundancy.
But before transporting anyone, SpaceX must first prove it has the capability. It’s one thing to fly the starship around the earth. It’s another thing to send it to the moon and perform an (unmanned) demonstration on the moon. It is imperative that SpaceX take this mandatory step before participating in the Artemis program.
SpaceX is expected to return its Starship safely to lunar orbit, dock with the future space station, land on the surface and depart. The rocket must also be able to connect to the Orion spacecraft, which will transport astronauts between the Earth and the Moon and back.
And the Space Launch System (SLS) in all this? Its role remains clear: NASA’s megarocket will be responsible for sending astronauts into space from Earth (the crew must be four people). All will be installed in the Orion spacecraft, located on top of the launch vehicle. The transfer from Orion to Starship HLS will take place near the Moon.