Despite Jeff Bezos' ardent complaints, SpaceX is powering ahead with work on Starship, the next launch vehicle and lander to take humans to the Moon. When asked on Twitter over the weekend whether SpaceX will have Starship ready to land humans on the Moon in 2024, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk replied, "probably sooner."
Last week, NASA announced delays to its plans to get to the Moon by 2024. These were caused by delays to the US space agency's spacesuit development, as well as by Jeff Bezos' company Blue Origin's complaints against the lunar lander contract awarded to SpaceX, which resulted in a protracted adjudication process.
NASA, SpaceX, and the jealous sibling
In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.89 billion NASA contract to develop and build a lunar lander to take humans back to the Moon for the first time in almost 50 years. The private space firm won the contract over rival bidders Dynetics and Blue Origin, the latter of which was founded by Amazon's Jeff Bezos.
An official complaint followed from Blue Origin on the grounds that NASA had violated procurement regulations. This was denied by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on July 30, meaning that NASA was free to move forward with its plans to collaborate with SpaceX on its lunar lander. NASA even rejected an offer from Blue Origin of a $2 billion payment waiver if it were to choose its moon lander over the one developed by SpaceX. That move was met with mockery by Musk who tweeted that "if lobbying & lawyers could get you to orbit" Bezos would be on Pluto by now.
SpaceX has a strong history of collaborating with NASA in recent years. Just last year the company brought human launches back to US soil after almost a decade of reliance on Russian launch vehicles to send NASA astronauts up to the International Space Station (ISS). When NASA pointed out that it was behind on its spacesuit schedule Musk stated that "SpaceX could do it if need be." For its human launch missions so far — Demo-2, Crew-1, and Crew-2 — SpaceX has sent astronauts to orbit clad in specially made spacesuits.
Lunar Starship will likely be ready sooner than 2024
Most recently, a Twitter thread started on Sunday highlighted a $300 million payment from NASA to SpaceX for work on its lander. The original poster directly asked Elon Musk whether he believes the Lunar Starship will be ready by 2024. In response, Musk pointed out that he believes it will be ready "probably sooner" than 2024. Alongside, Musk's recent assertion that SpaceX could help move spacesuit development forward, it looks like the space CEO is itching to do everything he can to help NASA keep to its initial timelines set for its Artemis Moon missions. Those missions will, after all, act as a stepping stone for future plans, from NASA and SpaceX, to send humans to Mars.
Before any of that can happen, SpaceX will have to stick to its own timeline of performing the maiden voyage of Starship by 2024, a goal that was initially set around 2019. Though Elon Musk is known for setting ambitious deadlines that are often not met, be they for SpaceX or for Tesla, progress does seem to be going well as SpaceX assembled the Starship launch system — the Starship mounted aboard a Super Heavy booster — for the first time earlier this month.