NASA has just awarded a new envelope of $ 1.15 billion to SpaceX to develop an improved version of its Starship lunar lander and carry out a second crewed mission.
In April 2021, NASA set its sights on SpaceX to develop the lander responsible for depositing the next humans on the Moon. This return will be on Artemis 3, which could not launch until 2028. As part of this $ 2.9 billion contract, which includes the Starship spacecraft, the two parties had signed an amendment in March the latter involving an “Option B”. Concretely, this option covers future upgrades of the Starship lander with the aim of support more ambitious missions.
The option also includes a second crewed landing mission. A priori, NASA would like to exercise it for Artemis 4. Initially, this mission was to focus only on the assembly of the future station in lunar orbit and not include a landing. This flight should ultimately be more ambitious than Artemis 3, carrying more astronauts over a longer period of time, hence the need for an “upgraded” ship. In other words, SpaceX should normally chain the next two human landings on the Moon. The first will be with a “classic” Starship, while the next will be in an upgraded vehicle.
” Continuing our collaborative efforts with SpaceX via Option B bolsters our resilient plans for regular crewed transport to the lunar surface and establishment of a long-term human presence under Artemis.“, said Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA HLS program manager.
A first big step to come
NASA also plans to rely on another service provider for its future lunar landings. This company should carry out its demonstration mission as soon as possible on Artemis 5, which is probably in the early 2030s a priori. NASA is currently inviting submissions through December 6. The agency plans to announce its choice in June 2023. A priori, it should focus on Blue Origin in order to satisfy the American Congress.
In the meantime, SpaceX is continuing preparations for the first orbital launch of its Starship spacecraft from Texas. In a static firing test operated on Nov. 14, the company managed to roar fourteen of the thirty-three Raptor engines that will power the vehicle’s Super Heavy booster.
At an Oct. 31 meeting of the NASA Advisory Board’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, Mark Kirasich, Deputy Associate Administrator for Artemis Campaign Development at NASA, said that Starship’s first orbital launch attempt could take place in December.