NASA has once again set its sights on the moon. This time, under the program name Artemis, the space agency plans to set up a base for one thing: Science! The goals of Artemis are to explore more of Earth’s companions, set up scientific experiments, and use what we learn to help further human expansion throughout the universe. The first major milestone in our return to the lunar surface is getting there. And NASA has officially announced their commercial partner.
For the last few years, three major companies have been working closely with NASA to win the contract to be the one to provide the vehicle responsible for getting humans back to the Moon and, one day, off to Mars. Though Blue Origin and Dynetics provided exceptional proposals, it was SpaceX that came out on top. The SpaceX Starship will be the key component in the Human Landing System that once again cover NASA boots in lunar dust.
SpaceX and NASA
Elon Musk‘s SpaceX is already partnered with NASA to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station. They have been testing rockets and crew modules for years and have been a big driving force behind NASA’s recent successes. Their single-stage design using the Starship as a lunar lander will provide ample room for cargo and crew; while also maintaining an autonomous landing capability. One thing that will be interesting to watch is the in-orbit refueling.
The next step is more unmanned testing. The Starship has previously proven itself flight-worthy, though the landings have been a bit explosive. Once the design fully meets safety and performance requirements, the lander will be put into service. According to NASA, four astronauts will board the Orion spacecraft and launch via a new Space Launch System. Once off Earth, astronauts will either board Gateway, a lunar orbiting outpost, or the Starship, which will act as a lunar lander. This lunar lander is more of a modern day shuttle from the orbiter to the surface and back. Experiments from the ISS, to Gateway, to the Moon will be conducted all along the way.
Based on the findings from this endeavor, moving beyond the Moon may one day be possible.
Watch the NASA Announcement