NASA taps SpaceX for second lunar demonstration

April 5 — It’s been almost a year since NASA announced it was choosing SpaceX for the first crewed lunar landing since 1972 as part of the space agency’s Artemis Moon program.

The “human landing system” proposed by the company for this first demonstration mission is a variant of the craft that SpaceX is developing at its complex in Boca Chica, which the company has dubbed “Starbase”. NASA said the first crewed landing would not take place until April 2025, with the goal of establishing a sustainable base on the Moon by the end of the decade before targeting Mars.

Now the agency, exercising an option under the original $2.9 billion contract, has asked SpaceX to make Starship capable of meeting NASA’s requirements “for recurring services for a second demonstration mission.” .

The agency says the purpose of the second demonstration is to evolve from an initial human landing system to a sustained human landing system.

“Continuing further development work under the original contract maximizes NASA’s investment and partnership with SpaceX,” NASA announced March 23.

The agency also announced its intention to call on other private American companies, which were not selected, to build lunar landers in parallel with SpaceX. NASA said it will release a draft solicitation in the coming weeks that sets out requirements for “future development and a demonstration lunar landing capability to take astronauts between orbit and the surface of the moon”.

“This effort is intended to maximize NASA’s concurrency support and provides service redundancy to help ensure NASA’s ability to transport astronauts to the lunar surface,” the agency said.

According to NASA’s schedule, SpaceX’s first crewed mission to the moon (Artemis III) is the next step after an uncrewed demonstration landing, which itself will be preceded by an uncrewed trip around the moon by NASA’s Space Launch System and the Orion crew capsule. The lunar lander concepts the agency is now soliciting would be to “carry astronauts between lunar orbit and the lunar surface for missions beyond Artemis III,” according to NASA.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that under the Artemis program, the agency would conduct “a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the moon to prepare for humanity’s next giant leap: a crewed mission to Mars”.

“Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to deliver a mission cadence over the next decade,” he said. “Thank you to the Biden administration and Congress for their support of this new astronaut lander opportunity, which will ultimately strengthen and increase the flexibility of Artemis.”

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