Elon Musk’s SpaceX Lands NASA Contract to Fly Humans to the Moon
NASA selected SpaceX, Elon Musk’s reusable rocket company, to fly people to the moon for the first time in decades, the space agency said on Friday. SpaceX beat out several rivals to win the contract.
It’s part of Project Artemis, a lunar exploration program also meant to demonstrate new technologies and financial approaches that will be necessary for future space exploration, including an eventual mission to Mars.
As part of the program, NASA has made the historic commitment to land the first woman and first person of color on the moon by 2024. The agency also wants to establish U.S. leadership by creating a strategic presence on the moon and to inspire a new generation of engineers.
The last time humans visited the moon was during the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
The business of getting to the moon
SpaceX prevailed over numerous rivals to win the contract.
Jeff Bezos’ rocket startup Blue Origin had established a partnership dubbed “The National Team” with aerospace and defense juggernauts Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) and Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC) as well as guidance and flight avionics specialist Draper in a bid to win the deal. Leidos (NYSE: LDOS) subsidiary Dynetics was also in the running.
Nearly a year ago, NASA had selected SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics to all develop human landers for Artemis. It’s common for the agency to pick multiple companies to compete to provide solutions, but NASA has now picked SpaceX to be the sole provider. The total value of the contract, which is a milestone-based award with a fixed price, is valued at about $2.9 billion.
The Washington Post reported that budget constraints at NASA presented some challenges — the budget for the current fiscal year was insufficient for even one contract. However, SpaceX was able to modify its payment schedule to fit, helping it secure the deal.
What’s next for SpaceX
NASA has already been collaborating with SpaceX to design the human landing system (HLS) that will transfer astronauts to the surface of the moon. The HLS must adhere to strict safety and performance standards for human spaceflight that include engineering, health, and medical considerations.
SpaceX has also been regularly testing its Starship, including a test flight of a prototype known as SN11 that ended in an explosion last month after missing the landing. The company is preparing to test a new and improved version known as SN15 this week. The new model features “hundreds of design improvements,” according to Musk.
SpaceX successfully completed a mission to carry two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, to the International Space Station last year. That was the first time in nine years that the U.S. had launched humans into space from U.S. soil.
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