NASA has reached an agreement with SpaceX for the company to participate in the Artemis 4 mission, scheduled for 2027. This will again be a shuttle between the Moon and space. The US space agency had previously retained SpaceX for a similar task with the Artemis 3 mission.
SpaceX becomes day after day an ever more important actor for the American space conquest. Already involved in the Artemis 3 mission, expected for 2025, the aerospace company founded by Elon Musk is now associated with the next mission. This was announced by NASA on November 15, 2022 in a press release.
In this case, SpaceX will have to provide the US space agency with a landing system capable of accommodating a crew to shuttle between the space station around the Moon and the surface of the satellite. SpaceX already has a plan in mind: it will use a modified version of the Starship, so that the second stage of the rocket can be used for this task.
The Starship HLS, cut for the landing of astronauts on the Moon
This version of the Starship is called Starship HLS (Human Landing System). It must be implemented from 2025 for Artémis 3 and in 2027 for Artémis 4. Currently, the Starship is still in the development phase. In particular, we expect an orbital flight, with the complete launcher. It could take place in 2022.
The agreement between NASA and SpaceX is not exclusive. As specified Bill Nelson, the head of the agency, other groups can also become partners to manufacture their lunar landers. Exactly as with access to the ISS, provided by several service providers, which guarantees high availability and good redundancy.
But, before transporting anyone, SpaceX will first have to prove that it has the capacity. It’s one thing to fly the Starship around the Earth. It’s another thing to send it to the moon and perform an (uncrewed) demonstration on the moon. It is imperative that SpaceX take this obligatory step before participating in the Artemis program.
SpaceX is expected to safely return its Starship to lunar orbit, dock with the future space station, land on the surface and depart. The rocket must also be able to connect to the Orion spacecraft, which will transport astronauts between Earth and the Moon, as well as back.
And, the Space Launch System (SLS) in all this? Its role remains clear: NASA’s mega-rocket must take care of sending astronauts into space from Earth (the crew must be four people). All will be installed in the Orion space vehicle, placed atop the launcher. The transfer from Orion to the Starship HLS will take place near the Moon.