Stunning choice: Final yr, NASA awarded three completely different teams contracts to additional develop their very own proposals for lunar landers: $135 million to SpaceX, $253 million to protection firm Dynetics (which was working with Sierra Nevada Corporation), and $579 million to a four-company workforce led by Blue Origin (working with Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Draper).
SpaceX didn’t simply obtain the least sum of money—its proposal additionally earned the worst technical and administration scores. NASA’s affiliate administrator (now performing administrator) Steve Jurczyk wrote (pdf) that Starship’s propulsion system was “notably advanced and comprised of likewise advanced particular person subsystems which have but to be developed, examined, and licensed with little or no schedule margin to accommodate delays.” The uncertainties have been solely exacerbated by SpaceX’s notoriously poor observe document with assembly deadlines.
What modified: Since then, SpaceX has gone by means of various completely different flight assessments of a number of full-scale Starship prototypes, including a 10-kilometer high-altitude flight and safe landing in March. (It additionally exploded just a few occasions.) In line with the Washington Submit, paperwork recommend NASA was enamored with Starship’s capability to ferry plenty of cargo to the moon (as much as 100 tons), to not point out its $2.9 billion bid for the contract, which was far decrease than its rivals’.
“This revolutionary human touchdown system can be an indicator in spaceflight historical past,” says Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s program supervisor for the lunar lander system. “We’re assured in NASA’s partnership with SpaceX.”
What this implies: For SpaceX’s rivals, it’s a devastating blow—particularly to Blue Origin. The corporate, based by Jeff Bezos, had unveiled its Blue Moon lander idea in 2019 and has publicly campaigned for NASA to select it for future lunar missions. Blue Moon was arguably probably the most well-developed of the three proposals when NASA awarded its first spherical of contracts.
For SpaceX, it’s a giant vote of confidence in Starship as an important piece of know-how for the subsequent era of area exploration. It comes lower than a yr after the corporate’s Crew Dragon automobile was licensed as the only American spacecraft capable of taking NASA astronauts to space. And it appears to verify that the SpaceX is now NASA’s largest personal accomplice, supplanting veteran companies like Northrop Grumman and shunting newer ones like Blue Origin additional to the sidelines. Nonetheless, there’s at the very least one main hurdle: Starship must launch utilizing a Tremendous Heavy rocket—a design that SpaceX has but to fly.
For NASA, the largest implication is that SpaceX’s autos will solely proceed to play a much bigger position for Artemis, the lunar exploration program being touted because the successor to Apollo. Former president Donald Trump’s directive for NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 was never actually going to be realized, however the collection of a single human lander idea suggests NASA might not miss that deadline by a lot. The primary Artemis missions will use Orion, and the long-delayed Space Launch System rocket is expected to be ready soon.