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NASA announces $2.89 billion contract with SpaceX to use custom version of Starship to land on the Moon


Expansive Ellipses
Staff Member

In one of the biggest NASA contracting surprises in years, the space agency has chosen SpaceX – and only SpaceX – to return humans to the surface of the Moon with its next-generation Starship rocket.

The Washington Post’s Christian Davenport broke the news a few hours before NASA’s scheduled announcement and teleconference, revealing that SpaceX beat out Dynetics and a Blue Origin-led “National Team” for a sole-source contract to build, launch, and land a custom version of Starship on the Moon for $2.94 billion. If that uncrewed testing is successful, SpaceX and Starship will be tasked with landing the first astronauts on the Moon in half a century as early as the in the mid-2020s.

While a Human Landing System (HLS) announcement was fully planned and expected to happen this month, virtually everyone following the process believed that NASA would continue to lean on the rationale behind selecting multiple providers for its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) and Commercial Crew (CCP) programs. Having multiple distinct providers, spacecraft, and rockets available to accomplish the same tasks fundamentally insulates NASA (and the International Space Station that depends on those programs) from losing the ability to transport crew or cargo in the event that any one provider is delayed or suffers a major failure.

With a goal as complex as landing humans back on the Moon for the first time since the 1970s, redundancy and multiple distinct solutions would obviously be even more desirable. Entirely contrary to expectations, NASA instead announced that it had exclusively contracted with SpaceX alone for next phase of HLS development. Though SpaceX may have been the only competitor already testing something approximating real integrated flight hardware, NASA’s decision to sole-source HLS to Starship represents a significant gamble.

Simultaneously, though, the move is also extraordinarily pragmatic and indicates that one or several major decisionmakers at NASA have taken less positive lessons from its commercial cargo and crew programs to heart. Crucially, over the first several years of the Commercial Crew Program (CCP), Congress systematically underfunded the development of two commercial crew spacecraft – one from Boeing and the other from SpaceX. As a direct result, the launch debuts of both spacecraft were delayed by several years, forcing NASA to to continue relying on Russian Soyuz launches well into the 2020s to get its astronauts to the ISS.

Additionally, SpaceX – an unequivocal underdog and newbie next to Boeing in the mid-2010s – has drastically outperformed its traditional aerospace counterpart, beating Boeing to the punch and launching astronauts first. Boeing’s Starliner is now at least 18 months behind Crew Dragon despite costing almost 60% more.

In its first year on the books, almost mirroring NASA’s Commercial Crew experience, Congress aggressively underfunded the HLS program, allotting $850M – just 25% – of the $3.4B NASA requested. In other words, NASA seems to be proceeding with HLS under the assumption that Congress – as it did with CCP – will continue to chronically underfund the lunar lander program for years to come. If that’s the case, NASA appears to have made an uncharacteristically astute decision to structure HLS not on its preferred budget – but on what the agency believes Congress will pony up.

Put in a slightly different way, NASA is basically telling Congress that its lack of commitment has forced the agency to sole-source its lunar lander contract to SpaceX, putting the impetus on Congress to properly fund the HLS program if it wants redundant providers. All told, while NASA is undoubtedly taking a risk selecting SpaceX and Starship to return both it and humanity to the Moon, the space agency has now made it abundantly clear that it’s fully committed to the program and goal, whether or not Congress is willing to do its job.



Expansive Ellipses
Staff Member

NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to explore more of the Moon as part of the Artemis program, and the agency has selected SpaceX to continue development of the first commercial human lander that will safely carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface. At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface.

The agency’s powerful Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. There, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

The firm-fixed price, milestone-based contract total award value is $2.89 billion.

"With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA's associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”

SpaceX has been working closely with NASA experts during the HLS base period of performance to inform its lander design and ensure it meets NASA’s performance requirements and human spaceflight standards. A key tenet for safe systems, these agreed-upon standards range from areas of engineering, safety, health, and medical technical areas.

“This is an exciting time for NASA and especially the Artemis team,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for HLS at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “During the Apollo program, we proved that it is possible to do the seemingly impossible: land humans on the Moon. By taking a collaborative approach in working with industry while leveraging NASA’s proven technical expertise and capabilities, we will return American astronauts to the Moon’s surface once again, this time to explore new areas for longer periods of time.”

SpaceX’s HLS Starship, designed to land on the Moon, leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks. The Starship architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.

The HLS award is made under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA).

In parallel with executing the Appendix H award, NASA intends to implement a competitive procurement for sustainable crewed lunar surface transportation services that will provide human access to the lunar surface using the Gateway on a regularly recurring basis beyond the initial crewed demonstration mission.

With NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, HLS, and the Gateway lunar outpost, NASA and its commercial and international partners are returning to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation. Working with its partners throughout the Artemis program, the agency will fine-tune precision landing technologies and develop new mobility capabilities to enable exploration of new regions of the Moon. On the surface, the agency has proposed building a new habitat and rovers, testing new power systems and more. These and other innovations and advancements made under the Artemis program will ensure that NASA and its partners are ready for human exploration’s next big step—the exploration of Mars.


Why surprising?

Boeing for example got billions of dollars and still has not had a successful crew test for the ISS.

Blue Origin does not even reach orbit.

Space X has Falcon, Falcon Heavy, and is developing Starship full speed ahead now.

Great Hair

After the 2014 $8bll. deal among the two, NASA has been using Russian Rockets for their manned missions. Wasn´t NASA CEO trash talking SpaceX ...


Hail Elon! The one person in the world trying to do something positive, it seems.

Here is hoping they invent a new strain of Moon Weed. There is precedent:

So ...I mean I'm kind of an amateur astronaut. No equipment, knowledge, experience, training, or education, but plenty of enthusiasm. Can I join the mailing list?
I'd be worried if that damn thing tips over on the moon. Wth would the crew do :O
Funny you should say that SN9 did tip over in the high bay

But seriously it was the stand that failed the Starship has never tipped over when standing on a launch stand or when rolling out from high bay to launch pad.

they move it standing up like this and it keeps it's balance just fine

It is not designed to tip over while not flying, so it is not something to worry about. No winds on the moon, it would take a massive moonquake to do that I would guess.

You really should see the booster that thing sits on when launched from Earth.


Expansive Ellipses
Staff Member
Member when Bush Jr said we would go back to the moon?

So I am not holding my breath til we are actually there.
The necessary technology no longer existed in 2004. All we had was the Space Shuttle, which could only do missions in Low Earth Orbit.

Now with SpaceX, Falcon can perform cost-effective crew and resource launches to orbit, and Starship is rapidly developing capability to take large payloads off-world.


I'd be worried if that damn thing tips over on the moon. Wth would the crew do :O
Starship regularly sits out on the pad in pretty good wind. The moon doesn’t have wind to tip it over and 1/6 gravity helps, too. On top of everything, rockets are designed for maximum stability. Any lunar/martian landing starship would have extremely reliable and robust stand systems to safely hold them above all else. The risk of a lunar tip over event should be pretty minimal even bordering on nonexistent.
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Is there a book you'd recommend to check out in that series?
Its been a while, and my experience was only with a random handful of them. Mars, Jupiter, Venus. In hindsight the series outline reminds me quite a bit of a 1980s-2000s version of the Expanse.

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Although its not likely any of the designs will stick in the next 3-4 years.....i really like the white moon version of starship thats been floating around for the last year


Do we need to go to the moon again and pollute the moon even more ? I rather stick to series the for all human kind, Apple TV.
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Cutty Flam

How do they decide what to study, research while actually on the moon? Is there a list of different fields of study, all in order of importance that they agree on while the rocket ship building takes place?

It’ll be exciting if this leads to more understanding on how the moon affects life here on Earth. Didn’t realize until yesterday that the moon actually influences some animals, and life under the sea as well

I was also reading yesterday that the moon was created (we think) by a rock the size of Mars crashing into Earth shortly after the solar system was formed, over 4.5 billion years ago

Also, Elon is the man. Hopefully Square Enix hires him to be a part of Final Fantasy XVI
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