NASA announced on Friday that SpaceX will carry out three massive contracts to build lunar landing systems, in a bid to return American astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, reports Ars Technica.
SpaceX's Starship awarded three NASA contracts to Moon
"With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, in a statement.
A lunar optimized Starship can fly many times between the surface of the Moon and lunar orbit without flaps or heat shielding required for Earth return pic.twitter.com/Zpkldayy85— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 30, 2020
Additionally, NASA also chose SpaceX, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, and Dynetics to build lunar landing systems to place future astronauts on the Moon by 2024, reports The New York Times.
UPDATE April 30, 2:50 PM EDT: $135 million mission contract for Starship
NASA awarded SpaceX a $135 million contract to move up the development of the Super Heavy rocket-powered Starship. The gigantic spacecraft — still in development — might eventually carry up to 100 passengers not only to the Moon, but into the deep interplanetary space beyond.
SpaceX earlier proposed their Starship mission to the Moon, which "included an in-space propellant transfer demonstration and uncrewed test landing," said Bridenstine, in a later tweet.
"SpaceX is really good at flying and testing — and failing and fixing," said Bridenstine to Ars Technica's Eric Berger. "People are going to look at this and say, 'My goodness, we just saw Starship blow up again. Why are you giving them a contract?' The answer is because SpaceX is really good at iteratively testing and fixing."
Bridenstine also voiced support for SpaceX CEO Elon Musk's capacities as a leader. "I fully believe that Elon Musk is going to be successful," said Bridenstine to Berger. "He is focused like a laser on these activities."
UPDATE April 30, 3:00 PM EDT: Blue Origin and Dynetics also receive contracts
Blue Origin received a $579 million contract. Led by Jeff Bezos, the private space company declared that its Blue Moon lunar lander in May 2019, which NASA plans to use during lunar descent to the chalky-gray surface of the Moon.
NASA also announced a $253 million contract to the space company Dynetics, in a partnership with Sierra Nevada Corporation, to construct a reusable lander that might be launched from the top of a United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket.
Dynetics' lander concept is two stages, and "includes a single element with ascent" and "descent capabilities and a unique crew cabin that sits low to the Moon's surface," reads another tweet from Bridenstine.
Meanwhile, NASA is taking ten months to assess the primacy of these new contracts, and decide which one to finalize in the production of the forthcoming lunar lander.
UPDATE April 30, 3:20 PM EDT: NASA's Artemis program, and intentions for deep-space exploratory mission
The three companies selected to design human landing systems (HLS) will be part of NASA's Artemis program, which will land the first woman and the next man on the Lunar surface by 2024, according to NASA's press release.
NASA intends to expand its Moon mission to establish a sustainable and ongoing human exploratory mission to the Moon for the first time in human history.
Called the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA), the contracts awarded are collectively worth $967 million for the 10-month initial period, according to NASA.
"We are on our way," said NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington Douglas Loverro, in the press release. "With these awards we begin an exciting partnership with the best of industry to accomplish the nation's goals. We have much work ahead, especially over these next critical 10 months. I have high confidence that working with these teammates, we will succeed."
UPDATE April 30, 3:30 PM EDT: NASA to evaluate commercial partners' progress before choosing demonstration missions
As NASA's commercial partners, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics will continue to refine their lander concepts through the contract base period, which ends Feb. 2021. In the meantime, the agency will evaluate which of the three contractors will carry out the initial missions.
"I am confident in NASA's partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon," said the HLS Program Manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, Lisa Watson-Morgan, in the press release. "We have a history of proven lunar technological expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024."
As the flagship mission to return humans to the Moon by 2024, NASA's Artemis program will seek out new knowledge of the Moon, Earth, and the origin of life in the solar system, according to NASA. Vitally important to the agency's plans to expand exploratory missions into deep space, today's contract announcements are foreground to NASA's own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and Gateway.
This is breaking news, so be sure to return here for more updates.