NASA signs billionaire contract with SpaceX for second moon landing

The Artemis 1 unmanned mission is not yet complete, and NASA is already working on future missions for its new lunar and space exploration program after the Apollo era, which ended in 1972.

Artemis 1 What are NASA's plans
Launch of Artemis Flight 1, the first mission of NASA’s new lunar exploration program, which took place in the early hours of Wednesday (16). Picture: NASA TV

And we are talking neither about Artemis 2, a manned mission that will repeat the path of the current one, nor about Artemis 3, through which the vehicle complex Space Launch System (SLS) will launch the Orion capsule to finally land astronauts on the Moon for the first time in over half a century.

The agency is already eyeing the Artemis 4 mission, which will not be carried out by its mighty 98-meter-high, 2,600-tonne mega-rocket, but by another colossal vehicle, which will be even more powerful: the Starship, from SpaceX. , 120 meters long.

Last Tuesday (15), NASA announced an amendment to the contract signed with Elon Musk’s company in April, which originally consisted of 2.9 billion dollars (more than 15.5 billion reais) for the development of Human Landing (HLS).

With this top-up in the deal, the US space agency will invest an additional $1.5 billion (about 8 billion reais) in what is being treated as “Option B.” According to the website Space NewsOption B covers Starship Moon Lander upgrades and also includes a second manned landing mission.

Spacecraft, SpaceX spacecraft, on the Moon, painted by NASA
Artist’s rendering of a SpaceX Starship, with the NASA sticker, on the lunar surface. Picture: SpaceX

“Continuing our collaborative efforts with SpaceX via Option B reinforces our resilient plans for regular manned transport to the lunar surface and the establishment of a long-term human presence beneath Artemis,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at SpaceX. statement. “This critical work will help us focus on developing durable, service-based lunar landers anchored to NASA requirements for regular recurring missions to the lunar surface. »

Until then, the Artemis 4 mission was only intended for work to build the Lunar Gateway space station, and did not include a landing.

SpaceX prepares for Starship test flight

SpaceX is continuing preparations for Starship’s first orbital launch attempt at its test site at Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas. During a static fire test conducted on Monday (14), 14 of the vehicle’s 33 Super Heavy Propeller Raptor motors were ignited.

According to the website space.comit is assumed that SpaceX will continue to increase this number of static firings, eventually firing all 33 engines of the Booster 7 model.

According to Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for the development of the Artemis program, NASA is closely following this whole process which will culminate in the first orbital flight test of the Starship, which for the agency is considered one of the milestones of the development of the lunar spacecraft version.

This test flight will lift off from Starbase, sending the Model Ship 24 capsule on an orbital journey that will end with a landing dive in the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Booster 7 is expected to land in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas shortly after launch.

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However, for all this to be possible, you must first wait for the granting of the launch license, a document that must be issued by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), with no scheduled release date.

At the same time, SpaceX is working on building another launch site for Starship. The company is retrofitting the historic LC39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida to accommodate launches of its mega rocket, which will be the largest and most powerful spacecraft ever launched.

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