NASA Awards SpaceX $2.9 Billion Lunar Lander Contract

NASA has selected SpaceX to continue development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface.

NASA is still going to use the overpriced Space Launch System rocket to launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

NASA is still not fully shifting fully to SpaceX, yet. The first Artemis missions will still use an SLS and Orion to take four astronauts to lunar orbit. They will then transfer two over to the SpaceX lunar lander. SpaceX will refuel in low earth orbit (6 launches to get fully fueled). But this could be NASA pivoting to Starship and Super Heavy after the first lunar mission or two lunar missions. SpaceX Starship is bigger than a fully assembled Lunar Gateway.

Written By Brian Wang,

48 thoughts on “NASA Awards SpaceX $2.9 Billion Lunar Lander Contract”

  1. He's certainly going to want them to pay for the trip. But if he schedules a trip without their paying, you know what will happen?

    They'll pony up, just so it's Nasa landing somebody on Mars, and not private enterprise beating them there.

  2. Now changed to a static test fire Friday, and launch early next week, assuming it comes off. Apparently they had some problems with one of the new engines they were installing.

  3. If the SLS drags (it will) Musk will move ahead with a moon landing.
    If Musk gets funding from Japan or China to land people from another country on the moon before America, Congress might change its tune.
    SLS is a joke. An unfunny, expensive, wasteful joke with no punchline.

  4. SLS won't be ready on ever. It's the worst thing since the advent of the goat rope.
    The only reason they don't cancel it is because politicians like being re-elected.

  5. I don't think the word "shipyard" should be interpreted to mean "something that looks like an oceanic ship yard, but in spaaaace…."

    Think of it as having the function of a shipyard, with whatever form factor is best for that given the environment.

  6. I have concluded that Musk needs to join with the Bezos/Bee people to get C from Moon and/or roids. Get water too, of course. Musk has absolutely no use for lunar stuff in his current plans that I see. Launch a C recovery system! Pretend you are on Mars. Also, once in orbit, or even on the Moon, it is not that hard to move, and the vehicle design can be quite different. The big cheap booster is actually the key. *Anybody* can scrap together a second stage that will work in Space, if it does not have to reenter Earth atmos. Skylab. 0 g is the key(TM).

  7. but the prize was so small. Musk likely loses that in his couch.
    Oher ways — Why are electric rail guns no longer a thing? – certainly 10^1 MJ gets you (cargo) into orbit.

  8. not convinced on such stereo-typical structures – shipyard? watching too much 1980s japan-imation. More likely an orbital tool-shed/ depot 'working around' craft, etc., buzzing about. Also, not buying-in on globs of occupied cells assembled into a base or hives > 20 persons… unless we need gravity or some essential communal resource or gosh-darn tourists – more likely a scattering of very specifically-purposed craft/ bases < 20m3 + solar. Space society in the upper orbits is to be more scattered, gritty, and singular-purpose.

  9. They are approaching the point where they'll need an orbital garage; Really large rockets in LEO for months and years? Either put that thing in a garage, or get good at patching holes in tanks that are full of cryogenics.

  10. high probably musk will get to Mars within 2 years of moon since Nasa will be funding development of starship deep space life support systems…

  11. agreed. Orbital re-fueling -> orbital maintenance -> orbital shipyard -> orbital shipyard accomodation -> habitats that provide support …. first orbiting base > 10 persons may be lunar. This is the path.

  12. Probably there will be the possibility to "resuscitate" people based on virtual activity. Just watch the episode "Be Right Back" from Black Mirror

  13. That op-ed seems not to have noticed that the lunar landing version incorporates canted thrusters at the top for landing purposes. And I don't recall any plans to refuel it in lunar orbit, either.

    Starship, fully loaded with 100 tons of cargo, has about 6.9 kps delta V. It does take 5.67 to reach the Moon's surface from LEO, so I can see where they got that idea.

    But Musk isn't planning on starting from LEO, and the Starship won't weigh as much taking off from the Moon. And may not be carrying 100 tons of cargo to the Moon, either. Last I heard, the plan didn't involve refueling in lunar orbit.

    I continue to advocate the development of a drop tank system for the Starship, by the way. It's a lot cheaper than staging, and would really extend the delta v capability once in orbit.

  14. They announced the part of the mission they already had funding for. This was also a large part of why SpaceX got the contract: They were the cheapest bid already, and the only one that could adjust their bid to come in within the budget, which the Biden administration had no interest in increasing.

    I suspect the mission profile will change to bypass the Gateway, once the SLS and Gateway schedules slip, and Starship direct to lunar surface becomes the only way to pull off the mission.

  15. They can take a whole bunch of equipment with the 2 astronauts – Possibly an entire habitat to leave behind.

  16. Step by step. It's already a revolution that a government agency acknowledges what SpaceX has achieved, and is willing to pony up part of the cost of developing the spaceship possibly taking humanity to these new places.

    Also NASA doesn't want a one shot spaceship. They are looking for developing a capability and an industry. Those will be the vehicles that can take all that stuff you mention to the Moon.

  17. The weird level of the announcement was off the scale. It is only for one crew, then everything starts over. I am quite happy to see intense debate about the best way to get crew to the Moon, as it means we are not going to Mars first. But there are many important issues here. Crew or robots? Surface or Halo base? CH4 from lunar volatiles? H version of SS? The absolute requirement of ISM/RU must be paramount.

  18. You simply cannot lose doing Space stuff. Gold rush!!!! I have come to realize that the main *gold* is 0 g itself.

  19. Shows to go you that things come around, after talk of refueling was banned by SLS mgmt. "long term mission profiles" are still way up in the air. Will the lunar base be orbital, or on the surface?

  20. I think the really important point here is SpaceX developing orbital refueling on the government dime.

    That sub-project outweighs all the long term mission profiles which will be changed anyway because the SLS won't be ready on time.

  21. Don't forget, in 2053 someone will be analysing all your spelling mistakes, grammatical peculiarities and old fashioned vocabulary for their master's thesis.

  22. Well, it just makes sense. It was the better technical proposal and the cheapest one too. So the decision wasn't that hard.

    Of course, such decision is also making a lot of people unhappy. But happy politicians and old space tycoons don't make us multiplanetary. So eff 'em.

  23. I'm afraid the SLS boondoggle will have to be used for taking the astronauts to the Gateway. Congress insists.

    Unless it is so badly wrecked that it becomes clear it will never be on time, or ever, and then a bold decision maker comes and uses what works and is already there.

    SpaceX won't wait forever to send rockets to the Moon, though, even with other reasons/excuses, they will test the full architecture departing from Earth orbit.

    Because why not.

  24. Agreed. Perhaps the China-Russian 'International' moon base plans, announced last month, may provide that first entrenched step to serious tours-of-duty lunar-side.

  25. Ah. But it is about the verified launch contracts by no-name companies that sunk All — though Rocket Lab appears to have ongoing notoriety. GLXP Continues as ongoing non-financial 'incentive program'. Ho-hum.

  26. Disparage-not Blog Comments – it's what passes for thinking and communicating post-GeoCities/ FB/ Six-degrees/ linkedIn… though, the quick collaborative nature must provide some value in academic/ professional circles…

  27. C'mon — Google Lunar X-prize ended 3 years ago… follow up? how hard can it be to fling stuff there and have it stick (and be used by others post-flung)?

  28. Yes. it's part of my future memoirs… what? …and lose all those biting and pithy insights as technology unfolds…

  29. Someone needs to Out-Musk Musk and get some lunar infrastructure installed below and before these tippy-toe steps of Artemis.

  30. SpaceX was literally the only option they could afford, and only after moving the payment schedule around.

    Still looks like a case of a square peg being shoved into a round hole.

  31. The return to Earth actually works out fairly well for this early work, because they'll be leaving the Moon with extensive samples that laboratories on Earth will want access to.

  32. This is great! Only one landing contracted, was before Halo infrastructure anyway. Now, Bezos can focus on robots and get refueling and ISM/RU started as precursor to real Space development. I predict a better way to go from lunar surface and back to Halo orbit will be found than returning to Earth for six refueling launches each time. But, works for now! As crew is a distraction from what is actually now needed, and VERY expensive, Bezos was wise to only provide the lander itself in his proposal. It is needed for everything, and is crew rated for use when needed.

  33. Until you set up H refueling from lunar materials. Or want to do ISM with lunar materials. Or do O'Neill at all. This plan of yours would make the SLS unneeded, you evil person!

  34. So, another case of, "Update to site caused all existing comments to vanish"? That really discourages investing any time in drafting technical comments.

    Scratch that, only some comments just before the change appear to have been lost.

    I'm glad SpaceX got this contract, (And it must have been a real burn for Bezos to have Blue Origin rejected for "risk" while Musk is blowing up prototypes.) but NASA is using the Starship in a remarkably inefficient way.

    They'll use the hyper-expensive SLS and Orion capsule to take the astronauts to their Lunar Gateway station. Then the Starship, refueled in orbit, travels unmanned to the station, picks up the astronauts, and lands on the Moon.

    Then after a week the process is reversed, with the Starship dropping the astronauts off at the Gateway, and returning to Earth orbit unmanned. Where presumably another Starship can dock with it to unload samples while it's being refueled.

    The obvious alternative would be to equip the Lunar version of the Starship with a docking port for a Dragon capsule. The astronauts ride a Falcon up to orbit, mate the capsule with the Starship, and proceed straight to the lunar surface. Then they launch from the lunar surface, return to Earth orbit, and use the Dragon capsule to return to Earth. 

    Considerably more efficient, and I would argue safer, too, as it eliminates multiple failure points.

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