NASA selects SpaceX to develop human landing system for Artemis moon mission using Starship

NASA is actively working on Artemis, a space exploration program that includes a mission to send the first woman and first person of color to the Moon during this decade. Astronauts will travel from Earth in NASA’s Orion spacecraft which will launch on the space agency’s Space Launch System rocket. SLS gives Orion the boost it needs to reach the Moon, but Orion doesn’t touch down on the lunar surface. A third vehicle called a human landing system is needed to transport astronauts to the surface of the Moon. One year ago, NASA selected three potential partners for providing the human landing system for Artemis 3, the first mission in the program that includes walking on the Moon.

Later today, the U.S. space agency will officially announce which partner it will proceed in funding for development. Ace Washington Post space reporter and author Christian Davenport has scooped the 4 p.m. EDT press conference with source selection details. According to Davenport, SpaceX has won the contract with its Starship-based human landing system bid.

For context, Davenport emphasizes that the $2.9 billion price tag for SpaceX’s services likely appeal to NASA compared to pricier proposals from Blue Origin and Dynetics. This development means SpaceX will have NASA’s backing in further developing its Starship launch system which is currently being developed in South Texas.

As we learned from the original proposal from SpaceX a year ago, Elon Musk’s space exploration company will rely on the Super Heavy booster to propel the Starship human landing system to the Moon. SpaceX beating out The National Team, lead by Blue Origin, and defense contractor Dynetics has huge implications for the company.

SpaceX has been the first Commercial Crew Program partner for NASA to transport astronauts to the International Space Station from the United States using its Crew Dragon spacecraft. SpaceX also has a NASA contract to deliver supplies to Gateway, a lunar orbiting component of the Artemis program, using a new vehicle called Dragon XL.

While NASA is using its own rocket and spacecraft for leaving Earth and reaching the Moon, the space agency will rely on SpaceX for actually getting to the surface of the Moon — a new milestone on SpaceX’s roadmap. Ultimately, SpaceX has its sights for Starship set on sending humans to Mars and beyond, but a NASA-funded mission to the Moon in the meantime is a huge deal for SpaceX.

We’ll update our coverage when NASA officially makes the announcement later today [Update: Here is the official announcement from NASA]. Learn more about SpaceX’s in-development Starship launch system here. Read the newly-published WaPo story here.

More SE coverage of the major NASA/SpaceX announcement here.

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