SpaceX’s Starship Might Start Flying Moon Missions in 2022
Article by Mike Wall November 19, 2019 (space.com)
• In order to pass the costs of space travel to the private sector, 14 companies have been selected by NASA to participate in the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. Buying a ride on a private craft, rather than developing and building its own landers, will theoretically save the agency big bucks. Of these 14 companies, five have been invited to make a contract bid on a NASA payload scheduled for 2022.
• One of these five selected companies is Elon Musk’s ‘SpaceX’. Musk would rely on SpaceX’s reusable spaceship-rocket duo known as ‘Starship’ and ‘Super Heavy’. Starship is capable of carrying 110 tons (100 metric tons) to the moon’s surface. So there will be plenty of room to ferry gear for a variety of customers in its primarily unmanned cargo ships to the moon and Mars. The Starship and the Super Heavy are equipped to accommodate a manned crew as well.
• SpaceX does have one crewed Starship mission on its docket already. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has booked a flight around the moon for himself and a handful of artists in 2023.
• The other four companies that are eligible for lunar payloads are California-based Ceres Robotics and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc.; Sierra Nevada Corp. of Colorado; and Washington-based Blue Origin, which will use its Blue Moon lander. Among the rest, ‘Astrobotic’ and ‘Intuitive Machines’ are already scheduled to deliver NASA science gear and a variety of other payloads to the lunar surface in July 2021.
• NASA views the privatization of space transport as a key to its Artemis program which aims to put two astronauts, including the first woman, on the moon by 2024 and establish a long-term human presence there by 2028. In May, NASA selected 11 private companies to build a prototype crewed Artemis lander. The companies submitted detailed proposals on November 8th. NASA is expected to pick the four finalists by early next year. In the meantime, unmanned commercial spacecraft will transport a variety of NASA experiments and hardware to the lunar surface that will pave the way for the astronaut pioneers. (see 1:11 minute NASA promo video for the Artemis Program below)
SpaceX’s huge Mars-colonizing Starship vehicle could make its first extraterrestrial touchdown just three short years.
SpaceX is one of five companies that are newly eligible to deliver robotic payloads to the lunar surface for NASA, via the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. SpaceX proposes to do this work with Starship and Super Heavy, the reusable spaceship-rocket duo that the company is developing primarily to help humanity become a multiplanet species.
And Starship could start putting NASA payloads down on Earth’s nearest neighbor quite soon, if all goes according to plan.
“We are aiming to be able to drop Starship on the lunar surface in 2022,” SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said during a NASA-organized CLPS teleconference Monday (Nov. 18).
SpaceX is not guaranteed to fly a CLPS mission that year, or any year. SpaceX is just eligible now to bid on NASA lunar delivery services; it will still have to beat out the rest of the CLPS pool, which is now 14 companies strong, for each moon contract.
And each mission that Starship flies under the CLPS banner will almost certainly ferry gear for a variety of customers. Starship is capable of carrying 110 tons (100 metric tons) to the moon’s dusty gray surface on each trip, Shotwell said, and it’s hard to imagine NASA filling out that manifest by itself.
NASA views CLPS as a key enabler of its Artemis program of crewed lunar exploration, which aims to put two astronauts, including the first woman, on the moon by 2024 and establish a long-term human presence there by 2028.
1:11 minute NASA promo video on the Artemis Generation (NASA YouTube)
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