The contract, worth $ 2.9 billion, is for the prototype Starship spacecraft, which is undergoing trials at a SpaceX site in Texas.
“Today, I’m very excited, all of us too, to announce that SpaceX has been chosen to develop our moon landing system,” said NASA program officer Lisa Watson Morgan.
“SpaceX” won over “Dynetex”, and also over “Blue Origin”, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, and thus became the only supplier of the system, which contradicts the approach adopted in the past because “NASA” has often chosen several companies, as a backup plan in case One of them failed the mission.
Industry analysts say the decision strengthens the position of Elon Musk, which was established in 2002 with the goal of Mars invasionAs NASA’s preferred partner in the private sector.
Last year, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully send a crew of astronauts to the International Space Station, giving Americans the ability to achieve this feat for the first time since the end of the Shuttle spacecraft program.
“SpaceX” presented its new “Starship” reusable vehicle, which is designed to transport large crews and massive cargo for long space trips, which can land standing up.
Tests of prototypes of the missile are underway in Texas, but the four flights have all been unsuccessful, ending in explosions.
Towards a permanent return to the moon
Within the framework of the “Artemis” program aimed at sending people to the moon, “NASA” seeks to use the heavy rocket “SLS” (Space Launch System) to launch four astronauts aboard the “Orion” capsule, which will then coalesce into a lunar orbital station called Gateway.
The “Starship” missile will be on hold as it prepares to receive two crew members for the final stage of the flight to the surface of the moon. The idea is for Gateway to be used as an intermediate station, but in the first mission, Orion can dock directly with Starship, according to Lisa Watson-Morgan.
The astronauts will then spend a week on the moon, before moving to the Starship rocket to return to lunar orbit, and then return to Earth on board the “Orion”.
The most powerful launcher
In parallel, “SpaceX” aspires to combine its “Starship” spacecraft with its “Super Heavy” missile to create a 120-meter-high vehicle that will be the most powerful launch pad.
Humans last set foot on the moon in 1972 during the “Apollo” program. “NASA” seeks to return and establish a permanent presence with a lunar space station, to test new technologies that will open the way for a manned mission to Mars.
In 2019, then US Vice President Mike Pence put NASA in front of the challenge of sending the first human crew, including a woman to land on the moon for the first time by 2024, but it is possible to delay the date that experts describe as unrealistic, during the Joe Biden era.
The Democratic President’s administration also announced a new goal of sending the first person of ethnic minorities to the Moon, as part of the “Artemis” program.