SpaceX is the Only Real Option for Human Landing on the Moon by 2024

Vice President Mike Pence announced a goal for a human landing on the Moon by 2024 during a National Space Council meeting.

SpaceX will be the only real option for manned missions to the moon by 2024. Mike Pence announced that the US government will no longer be patient reaching goals in for the moon, Mars and Space. If the US is no longer willing to wait years and decades for space goals then SpaceX is the winner and the only real option.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 Crewed rocket will soon be certified for launching humans to orbit and the space station. The Boeing Starliner is delayed and may not be certified until next year.

SpaceX and Boeing are the only possible contractors for a manned mission to the moon in any short time frame. However, the Crew Dragon and Starliner are smaller manned capsules. They could be used to get to Earth orbit and then to lunar orbit. However, there needs to be more modifications and work to enable either system to land on the moon.

Clearly, SpaceX is the company that has shown it will be able to make the needed modifications and new systems.

SpaceX has the SpaceX Heavy and could have an orbital version of the new Super Heavy Starship by 2020.

If the US wants to go to the manned mission to the moon by 2024 then the answer is SpaceX.

If the US wants to make a colony or lunar base soon after then the answer is SpaceX.

If the US wants a Mars colony or base then then answer in SpaceX.

The Space Launch System will be lucky to have a first unmanned flight by 2021. SLS was previously planning only one launch every 1-2 years and they were failing to meet that goal.

SOURCES- Elon Musk Twitter, Every Day Astronaut, SpaceX, NASA, VP Mike Pence, Analysis and Opinion by Brian Wang

Written By Brian Wang,

75 thoughts on “SpaceX is the Only Real Option for Human Landing on the Moon by 2024”

  1. We could – if.

    If there were an overwhelming reason to go there.
    If that reason was sufficient to go to a ‘balls to the wall, we’ve got to develop this or else’ development course.
    If after deciding that we go to a ‘Skunk Works’ methodology for R&D and actual building as pioneered by Kelly Johnson and Ben Rich – and cut out a lot of the current fluff that passes for considered spending in Congress and NASA.

    Let the engineers and designers have control, and get the bureaucrats out of the way.

    But it’s pretty darn unlikely that’ll ever happen.

  2. Ahhh. We actually have around 6000 employees all trying to solve these problems. Elon sets the vision and provides guidance we execute that vision.

  3. If they could’ve they would have. Meanwhile their private rockets crush and burn. Crush and burn baby, all of them. Nobody can compete with SpaceX, not now, not later.

  4. Starship. Starliner is the Boeing CST-100 capsule for commercial crew.

    I’m pretty sure I’d classify Starship as a PPT rocket right now, too.

  5. Differences:

    1) I back-of-napkin’d Starship’s maximum tilt angle at about 15 degrees. (See ). If you’re seeking Peaks of Not-Quite Eternal Light, a lot of the upland areas have angles of repose of about 30 degrees.

    2) LIDAR’s all well and good, but F9 cores have GPS and other navigational aids at the prepared pad. None of those will exist at an unprepared landing site.

    3) One rock sticking up into an engine bell will ruin your whole day. (This is one of the main reasons why the Apollo LM had separate descent and ascent engines. They actually pranged a descent engine bell on one of the missions.)

    4) You can’t hover with fault-tolerance. The maximum mass of SS landing on the surface is 295 t (assuming full tanks and 2400 m/s of delta-v from HEEO to TLI), so the force is 477 kN. A Raptor @ 20% = 380 kN, which will hover with one engine, but not two.

    5) LIDAR isn’t going to work well in an environment with a very rough surface, and it’s not going to work at all in an environment where the engines are kicking up dust.

    6) Mission life is limited by methalox boil-off rates, which are much higher on the daylight lunar surface than in free space.

    7) No hold-down clamps. This means that the Raptors have to come up to full thrust evenly, and quick enough not to exceed the gimbal command authority to keep things safely vertical.

    It’s not a slam-dunk by any means.

  6. “Mr. Musk, prior to the accident, had you sought NASA crew certification for the Starship?”

    “Well, no, we viewed the NASA process for this as unduly restrictive and more conservative than necessary.”

    “In light of the fact that you just killed ten people, do you still view it as unduly restrictive?”


    I’m guessing here, but I also think that it’s unlikely that any government entity, foreign or domestic, would buy seats on a vehicle that hadn’t been blessed by NASA. USAF might for combat missions, but outside of a wartime environment, they’ll be as gun-shy as everybody else.

    Beyond all of this, I simply don’t believe that there’s enough of a market–yet–for SpaceX to be able to get a decent ROI without the majority of human fees coming from governments. If that’s true, it’s bad strategy to annoy the governments by bypassing their certification procedures. It would make SpaceX look like a bunch of cowboys, and that’s not a good look when you’re under scrutiny by a congressional committee that would love to crush you and continue its cost-plus gravy train.

  7. I don’t think you could encase it–it’ll take too long to blow away. However, I do think that you could build an interstage/sleeve, so that the nose of the Starship was the capsule, and the abort motors would separate the capsule during an abort.

    I you’re interesting in learning way too much about abort regimes, there’s a good technical paper from the Apollo days:

    There’s a lot of non-intuitive stuff in here, but the gist is that the amount of warning time you need to perform the abort is heavily dependent on the size of the stage that’s exploding, and its distance from the capsule at the time of explosion. The SuperHeavy isn’t quite as big as the Apollo S-IC, but its propellants are a lot more volatile, so a successful abort will likely require response times and accelerations that are a bit more than the Apollo/Saturn V cases.

    Bottom line is I don’t think this is a simple mod to Starship–it’s more like a Starship v2 design. And I have no clue how you’d adapt this to launch more than a few people at a time.

  8. I’ll honestly be surprised if the SLS ever actually launches. NASA seemingly has no urgency to get the thing into the air, as long as they get paid to develop it.

  9. Nicotine and caffeine – they’re both needed for rocket fuel, lol.

    The two stimulants together got us to the moon.

  10. You could deploy some sort of extended landing legs once in orbit. They wouldn’t have to be terribly strong to handle a landing in Lunar gravity.

    Could be incorporated into my proposed drop tank system, too. I picture a non-aerodynamic framework with spherical tanks and wide legs, that could be mounted to the bottom of the Starship in orbit.

    With an added drop tank and increased payload, the Starship might be heavy enough on landing to avoid having to hover-slam.

    In fact, just running with it, in this case the drop tank/landing legs could be the base itself. That would certainly reduce the unloading time on the Moon, for those concerned about boil off of cryogenics.

    You’d launch with all this stuff inside the Starship, then unload while in orbit and assemble it into place while waiting on refueling.

  11. The lead-paint generation took us to the Moon.
    The libs removed lead from paint and we ain’t been back since.

  12. They’re making it out of stainless steel, not carbon fiber, which means design changes are a LOT easier. You’d just cover the Dragon with a section of fuselage that could be blown away in an emergency.

  13. The Centaur-derived XEUS lander is presently at a more advanced level of development than the Super Heavy – Starship in that the Centaur with its RL-10 engines are already developed and have decades of flight experience. What remains is to develop the lander kit for it. If the Trump
    Administrstion is serious about sending crew to the surface of the Moon ASAP then they need to publicly call out Boeing and LockMart from preventing ULA from proposing that lander to NASA.

  14. No, I think NASA does certification out of a combination of reasonable caution and a paranoid conviction if any astronaut anywhere ever dies again they’ll be shut down for good.

    But it remains that all NASA certification gets you is that NASA will put their people on your ship. You don’t need it to fly anybody else.

  15. I’m with you there: If you’re going to call something “Starship”, it better be headed to another star. What would Musk call an actual starship? “Intergalactic”?

  16. Yeah, but that’s true no matter what ticket you choose. The LEM and CM, or whether that’s even the best configuration to use is all up in the air.

  17. How would you get the Starship to reenter, then? If you detach the D2 for reentry, how does the Starship manage with no nose?

    I think you’re on the right track here, but it’s more likely that you have a capsule that is an integral part of the front of the Starship, and blowing it away in case of an abort assures a loss of the rest of Starship, but increases the odds of crew survival. But that’s not a D2; it’s something pretty exotic, where part of the side of the capsule is part of the SS heat shield.

    It’s a lot of work.

  18. SLS is so expensive that an extra D2/F9 launch is a rounding error.

    And as I said to Brett above, it’s not a question of only testing; it’s a question of doing a full-up failure analysis and retiring the risks that you uncover. If it were just dumb testing testing time, the second D2 wouldn’t be carrying a crew–nor would Orion be carrying one until the 2040’s.

  19. 6) It’s not a question of testing; it’s a question of quantifying and retiring risk across the entire entry failure tree.

    7) SpaceX recently dumped a malfunctioning core in the drink right off the Canaveral coast–because it was easy to retire risk to the launch complex that way. Think that’s an option for a crewed flight? How do you deal with a reentry that’s enough off-course that the SS can’t reach the pad? Do you think that an over-water ditch is survivable? (It might be, but you’d have to do an awful lot of work to prove it.)

    Note that I’m not saying that SS is never crew-certifiable (although #1 seems like a permanent show-stopper, frankly). But I am saying that it’s a buttload of work, and it’s going to take a long time to do the whole profile. On the other hand, using it as a big dumb transfer stage is a lot easier, and allows you to get rid of Orion/SLS completely.

  20. I watched the full record. The full plan was not revealed, but from what was discussed I made the following conclusions:

    1. Destination is Lunar south pole. Plan A is SLS+Orion, plan B is “another agency”, which is obviously SpaceX. Due to the timing of the plan, plans cannot be executed sequentially; they must be pursued simultaneously, so that if plan A fails, plan B is ready to go. That means whatever design SpaceX has for Luna, is funded and in the works.
    2. There will be a small cargo transport to Luna based on a commercial launcher – by 2020! That can only be SpaceX. That means however item 1 goes, SpaceX will have commercial cargo service to Luna in a couple of years. By the apparent purpose of that service (emergency deliveries), it may even be or become a stand-by service, i.e. launch when needed or when full cargo load is collected.
    3. There will be nuclear rockets after the initial flights to Luna. There will be nuclear-powered water mining on Lunar south pole. SpaceX does not do nuclear work, but provisions for future commercial nuclear in space were discussed.
  21. “Literally, that’s the only thing NASA crew certification gets you: NASA will put people on your ship. For anybody else it’s irrelevant.”

    You seem to think that NASA just does certification for the sheer joy of the paperwork. That’s not right. There can certainly be judgments made about how conservative or aggressive one should be with the risk, but at the end of the day everybody has to run the same failure trees to identify the risk and decide which ones need to be retired and which ones don’t.

    I suspect that SpaceX will be at least as conservative as NASA, because NASA can at least survive a fatal accident; SpaceX probably can’t–at least not one in the early days of Starship.

    1) Airplanes don’t have an abort because they glide, because the engine technology has hundreds of thousands of hours of time on it, has lower pressure ratios, can afford the cladding weight, and the number of engines is small. Airplanes use fuel that’s not very explosive. None of these things is true for SH/SS.

    2) Scaled down Raptor = new engine.

    3) It’s not the unevenness of the ground; it’s the average pitch–especially if you want to access a Peak of Not-Quite Eternal Light.

    4) If you’re saying that SS isn’t the landing/ascent vehicle, then we’re in agreement. Otherwise, exactly how do you get this D2 deployed?

    5) You need the clamps until there’s enough thrust so that any unevenness can be absorbed without deviating out of spec for the gimbals.

  22. Need to work on orbital refuelling. Might have to build a more squat rocket to land on the moon since the moon surface won’t be that flat.

  23. It should be relatively easy for Lockheed Martin to derive a single stage lunar crew lander from their Centaur V and Orion spacecraft technology.

    But if this spacecraft is truly reusable and if their propellant depot technology really works then LockMarts spacecraft could also replace the Orion/SM.

    This could be done by simply deploying propellant depots to NRHO and LEO. And this would give any space company with the capability to launch crews to LEO, easy access to NRHO and to the lunar surface.

  24. There is no one beside SpaceX developing the full stack of parts for a lunar mission, which could also be ready by that date.

    Those parts are the Super Heavy booster and the Starship second stage and lander.

    They plan to have it complete and going to orbit by 2020-21. This includes the return capability of Super Heavy and Starship, which can be used for having quick reusability and landing on the Moon and Earth.

    SLS is already being delayed and it would only serve to place a few payloads in space, none of them a lunar lander (which also needs to be developed). Besides it has a very slow launch cadence of once a year, making any plans to launch anything on it a very slow matter.

    After their track of results, it’s almost certain SpaceX could deliver SH/SS on time or before 2024, while a SLS+Orion+unknown lander combo we’d be lucky to see it ready by 2030.

    There’s also the political aspect. Any public space project that takes more than any presidential administration, it’s almost certain to not be completed, because the new administration will cancel it, to come with its own plan.

    This is how we got George W. Bush’s Constellation program and now SLS/Orion, which have definitely gone nowhere.

  25. Its pretty simple to make an abort system for spaceship, put something like an larger version of the new glen capsule on top, have crew in that part during takeoff and landing. An dragon would be overkill and you can not exit as its an integrated service module below.
    Think escape capsule not spaceship. Yes it would increase the weight by 2-4 ton 🙂

  26. Dragon where you put an 3rd stage into the trunk could reach Moon orbit and return, this however will require an falcon heavy.
    You could then make an Apollo style moon lander put on an second falcon heavy and send first to moon orbit, landing stage need to be larger as it had to enter moon orbit on its own, launch this first, dock and crew transfer then land.

    Other option is starship with refueling. That is there I would focus because the capabilities down the road. No need for an dedicated lander.

  27. I wonder if Dragon would be capable of landing and returning to Starship if they stripped away all of the insulation and structural reinforcement only necessary for re-entry into earth’s atmosphere.

  28. I’m a fan of SpaceX making a lunar variant of the “Starship” which has a Dragon in the nose of the “Starship” and the rest of the space is for cargo.

    Basically Dragon capsule + Starship engines and frame. Cuts down on development time by leveraging the work already done.

    Because Dragon by itself is ready for people.

  29. Thus far, SpaceX continues to be what they appear to be-a taxi service. Every stop they have ever made was at the direction of a paying customer, it remains to be seen if they have any plans to be anything else.

    Thanks to a lot of irrational exuberance, many are confused as to what SpaceX is and is not doing. Some think SpaceX will self fund/develop their own Mars/Lunar surface reference mission and all that entails, I dont see that happening. I have no expectations the first humans on Mars or humans returning to the Moon will be SpaceX employees. In all likelihood, no NASA or Japanese rich guy money means no humans on Mars/Moon.
    If you’ve developed your own Mars/Moon mission and have the cash, SpaceX would be happy to give you a ride to your destination.

  30. I doubt SpaceX will test the mission profile with people.

    They will most likely make several tests, first of orbital trips and landings, orbital refueling and cislunar injection, then of the full mission profile with return, uncrewed.

    If NASA has doubts about the safety of the scheme, they could use D2 for ferrying their astronauts to orbit and back to the ground, as you say. But that will impact the mission profile, complexity and cost, which may not be such a big deal if we are talking about such a big mission.

  31. 6) I assume they’ll do some reentry tests in advance of the manned mission.
    7) Powered landing of a crewed vehicle is no different than power landing of an uncrewed vehicle. The rockets don’t know what the cargo is.

  32. I think early crew certification by NASA is unlikely, barring the administration bringing some heavy pressure to bear. If Pence is serious, that’s a possibility. If not, well, SpaceX can launch without it, there just won’t be NASA astronauts on board. Maybe an Air Force crew.

    Literally, that’s the only thing NASA crew certification gets you: NASA will put people on your ship. For anybody else it’s irrelevant.

    1) Somehow airplanes get by without launch abort capability. It’s not a magical thing, even if the lack of it might influence NASA to deny that certification that only matters to NASA.
    2) Right, a two Raptor engine landing on the Moon would have to be a hover-slam. Which they’re getting a lot of practice at, but it’s not ideal. Maybe they could fit in a couple of scaled down Raptors? Not needed for Earth landings, but would be handy for the Moon.
    3) Fair enough, though the landing legs are capable of adjusting to non-level surfaces. This IS the weak point of the plan, IMO.
    4) Right, so the Starship lands, unloads a base, and takes off again. Then comes back a month later. And if things get dicey in the meanwhile? This is why my proposal includes a crew Dragon capsule with a drop tank to increase the delta V enough for the return part of the mission.
    5) I don’t think that’s necessary. The clamps don’t help you light off the rocket, they let you stay on the ground until you know they all lit. But you don’t need all of them for the return flight.

  33. Its not just big D. I work Big D. Supply chain and vendors killing everything! They should spin off groups like Black projects use to and build everything that is custom in house from raw materials. Local control, minimal functionals and iterative design.

  34. Thanks for clarifying that. I thought from Combinatorics’ comment that SpaceX might have changed the name of their upper stage.

  35. I think early crew-certification for the entire Starship mission profile is unlikely, due to the following seven scary things:

    1) No launch abort capability.

    2) You can’t hover on the lunar surface and have two Raptors firing, even at 20% throttle. There’s too much thrust. You can do it on one engine, but then there isn’t a fail-safe. You could also hoverslam, but that sounds like a terrible idea on an unimproved surface.

    3) The maximum tilt angle for landing on the Moon is pretty low with a platform as tall and skinny as a Starship.

    4) Time on the surface is restricted to however long LOX and LCH4 boil-off will allow.

    5) You’ll have to figure out how to get a clean Raptor start-up and thrust without hold-down clamps.

    6) Reentry from TEI is a complete unknown.

    7) Powered landing of a crewed vehicle is also a complete unknown.

    However, if somebody builds a lander/ascender ferry, and somebody builds a crew module that can be bolted onto the ferry, as well as transported with crew in the Starship cargo bay, then Starship can take the crew from HEEO to NRHO, the ferry/crew module can take the crew to the surface and back, Starship can return to HEEO (using a powered injection, with no aerobraking or other strange stuff), and the D2 can take the crew home. SS can then land uncrewed.

  36. SpaceX should just say no … stay on track with SHSS with no NASA money and there is a 50% chance they can land and return SpaceX staff in 2024.

  37. And then they will make SpaceX a big fat check for the lunar taxi service, and declare mission accomplished and that they were backing SpaceX all along.

  38. No, I agree. Though the “Starliner” (It’s not the “Starship” this week?) has enough cargo capacity that you could carry the Dragon capsule with drop tank as a “lifeboat”, and leave it at the base. With that store-able propellant it would be good in that role.

    I’m just pointing out that a drop tank would dramatically extend the utility of the “Starliner” for missions that aren’t highly acceleration constrained.

  39. This isn’t some wonderful new government program. It’s simply the government/NASA grabbing onto Elon’s coattails before it’s totally left behind and offering to pay him a little money so people think he’s hanging onto IT’S coattails. Then hopefully it won’t look even sillier than it already does.

  40. Propulsive landing with LIDAR to find good spots would be relatively easy. Simpler than F9 hover slam.

    The hard part isn’t the landing, it is building the rocket that does the landing. Lockmart/Boeing won’t start doing anything more than PPT diagrams until NASA cuts them a large cost plus check.

    So not happening by 2024. It will be SpaceX who lands on the moon thanks to the heretofore unknown ability to work on something prior to congressional funding.

  41. What exactly can the D4H launch that will land on the Moon? There isn’t anything.

    Everything that isn’t the SpaceX Starliner is a PPT rocket.

  42. As I said elsewhere in this thread, I think it can do the job if equipped with a drop tank, which should be feasible if it only has to deal with lunar gravity, because with those 8 engines, it has a lot of spare thrust available for carrying extra fuel.

    Without that, it couldn’t carry enough fuel.

  43. How about the Delta IV Heavy? Seems like it’s definitely doable in two launches with a rendezvous.

  44. It is not the only option. NASA maybe able to execute other options if so it chooses. It may be the most viable option if the new heavy is ready to land on the moon, which is highly doubtful. Enough with the mentally simplistic and submissive attitude of one man is going to solve all humanity problems!

  45. What i mean is that they have the capacity. Not right now sure, but if they really wanted to, they could do it. They have plans for it already , they would need to speed them up.

  46. Not to be a party spoiler, but with what rockets and landers specifically they could do that by 2024?

    AFAIK Long March 9 could send a mission to the Moon (140T to LEO, 50T to lunar injection), but it’s planned to first launch in 2030.

  47. No titanium grid fin magic on the moon…
    On the other hand, ballistic trajectories are more predictable in absence of an atmosphere. New system anyway

  48. News flash: SpaceX is developing the BFR/BFS without NASA cutting a check.

    It is happening either way.

  49. Yes SpaceX is the only option by 2024. Who believes that LockMart/Boeing could make a lunar lander by 2024?

  50. All the new funding that came with this new goal means they’re serious this time. Not like all those worthless pronouncements heretofore by presidents looking for their own Kennedy moment. Any reasonably rational person knows that pronouncements and intentions are irrelevent, all that matters is budget allocations.

  51. Just need to chuck a few Lunar Positioning Satellites in orbit before landing and bam! Accurate landing for everyone.

  52. How hard could propulsive landing be on the moon, when they already have it working for earth landing, just change gravitational constant in the landing program… presto… moon lander done. Ok so there’s no atmosphere on the moon… no big deal… They just need a good guidance system to get there and enough fuel… I don’t know why Elon doesn’t land a falcon heavy on the moon as a demo… no people… just land the booster there… not enough fuel?

  53. IIRC, the Apollo capsule wasn’t exactly a radiation storm shelter; They just launched during a lull, and accepted that if there had been a solar flare during the mission the astronauts would all die.

    SpaceX wouldn’t be doing the Moon mission using the Crew Dragon, anyway, unless they brought one along as an escape option. They’d use a Starship refueled in orbit. The Starship has enough delta-V for a round trip to the lunar surface if refueled in high orbit. It could take a half dozen or more tanker flights to do that, though.

    I’d suggest that SpaceX could develop drop tanks for both the Starship and Crew Dragon. Since they both have high enough thrust to weight fully loaded to exceed 1 G, they have the potential once in orbit, or going to the Moon, to be equipped with tankage that lowers the thrust to weight ratio, but increases the fuel fraction.

    A drop tank meant to be fueled in orbit and used for missions where low acceleration is acceptable would greatly increase the capabilities of both craft, and would not be all that expensive, lacking the complex engines and reentry shielding.

  54. With 2 launches of FH and 1 launch of F9 with a crewed Dragon, it is possible to land on the moon and return.

  55. The only light of hope remaining is this statement by Pence:

    The objective will not change but the agency and the contractors can be changed.

    Which may mean they are serious in the idea of achieving the goal, with, without or regardless of NASA.

    If SpaceX shows serious progress in the next couple of years (finishing SH/SS validation and reaching orbit and reuse), then this presidential intent can certainly gain a lot more weight.

    If NASA won’t send their astronauts on anything they haven’t blessed, then other agency could.

  56. Crew Dragon and Starliner would each require significant mods and testing to operate beyond LEO, especially concerning radiation hardening, and long-duration of life-support systems.

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