NASA recently added a new Moon landing to its Artemis plans and it needs a specialized human landing system to carry it out. To virtually no one’s surpriseNASA chose SpaceX to develop this second lunar lander.
NASA awarded SpaceX a contract modification known as Option B, which calls for tweaks to the company’s initial Starship lunar landerthe space agency announced this week. The Option B contract is worth around $1.15 billion.
“With multiple planned landers, from SpaceX and future partners, NASA will be better positioned to accomplish the missions of tomorrow: conducting more science on the surface of the Moon than ever before and preparing for crewed missions to Mars,” NASA aadministrator Bill Nelson said in a statement.
NASA intends to land two astronauts on the lunar surface in 2025, but more realistically in 2026during the Artemis 3 mission. Last month, NASA announced its plans to land a second crew on the Moon during the following Artemis 4 mission as well. The space agency had scrapped its original plans for a second lunar landing during Artemis 4, which also involves delivering two space station components to lunar orbit, but the agency had a recent change of heart.
In 2021, NASA signed a $2.89 billion contract with SpaceX to develop a human landing system for Artemis 3. The private company intends to use a modified Starship spacecraft to perform the task. The fully integrated Starship heavy launch system has yet to fly, but it could do so in December.
The new addition to the original contract now looks beyond that initial lunar touchdown and towards the establishment of a sustainable human presence on the Moon—a key facet of the Artemis program. To that endOption B will include a modified Starship lander capable of docking with NASA’s lunar Gateway (a future orbiting outpost around the Moon)accommodate four crew members, and deliver more cargo to the lunar surface, according to NASA.
“Continuing our collaborative efforts with SpaceX through Option B furthers our resilient plans for regular crewed transportation to the lunar surface and establishing a long-term human presence under Artemis,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager for the Human Landing System program at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, said in a statement.
SpaceX may be developing a modified Starship lander, but NASA is still looking to expand its options as it looks Beyond Artemis 4. The space agency has called on other US companies to come up with designs for additional Moon landers for future missions. SpaceX previously beat out Blue Origin for the first lunar landing system, but Jeff Bezos’ company may very well be ready with a new proposal for this upcoming contract.