NASA has announced that SpaceX will have competition when it comes to putting a commercially operated crewed spacecraft on the surface of the moon as part of the Artemis mission.
The space agency announced on Wednesday that it is asking other American companies to come up with concepts for lunar landers capable of taking astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon.
The proposals will be part of the Artemis missions after Artemis III, currently on the verge of landing its first astronauts on the moon in 50 years.
The second commercial contract, known as the Lunar Sustainable Development Contract, represents a second path for lunar lander development alongside ongoing work with Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
NASA said the effort was intended to maximize NASA’s concurrency support and provide service redundancy to help ensure NASA’s ability to transport astronauts to the lunar surface.
SpaceX was selected by NASA as a crewed lunar landing partner in April 2021. The company’s lunar lander is known as Starship, and it is expected to hit the lunar surface no earlier than 2025.
As part of the Artemis mission, see the first person of color and the first woman tread the surface of the moon. NASA has also assigned another mission to SpaceX’s Starship spacecraft in addition to those already planned.
Not only will the Starship ferry crew travel to the Moon, but Musk’s SpaceX says it will also carry vast amounts of cargo that will form the building blocks for future space exploration research and human spaceflight development. .
The fully reusable Starship spacecraft and its Super Heavy Rocket Launch System are expected to be the most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, capable of lifting more than 100 metric tons of cargo into orbit around Earth.
Starship is powered by three reusable methalox staged-combustion Raptor engines, which began flight testing on the prototype rocket in July 2019.
This lifting power and cargo-carrying capability will improve sustainability in space, enabling longer space missions and allowing the moon to be used as a stepping stone to Mars exploration. Starship is also scheduled to visit the Red Planet multiple times, with its heat shield designed to withstand multiple entries into the Martian atmosphere.
The new commercial spacecraft that will join Starship on its journey to the moon, and will be built in accordance with NASA’s long-term lunar landing requirements.
It will need to possess the ability to dock with a planned lunar-orbiting space station known as the Gateway, increase crew capacity, and have the ability to carry more science and technology to the surface. .
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press statement, “Under Artemis, NASA will perform a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap for humanity: a crewed mission to Mars.
“Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to perform a cadence of missions over the next decade. Thank you to the Biden administration and Congress for their support in this new astronaut lander opportunity, which will ultimately strengthen and increase the flexibility of Artemis.”