NASA taps SpaceX for 2nd moon demo

Apr. 5—It's been almost a year since NASA announced it was choosing SpaceX for the first crewed lunar landing since 1972 as part of the space agency's Artemis moon program.

The company's proposed "human landing system" for that first demonstration mission is a variant of the Starship that SpaceX is developing at its Boca Chica complex, which the company has dubbed "Starbase." NASA said the first crewed landing won't happen before April 2025, the goal being to establish a sustainable base on the moon by the end of the decade before setting its sights on Mars.

Now the agency, exercising an option under the original $2.9 billion contract, has asked SpaceX to make Starship capable of satisfying NASA's requirements "for recurring services for a second demonstration mission."

The agency says the purpose of the second demonstration is to evolve from an initial to a sustained human landing system.

"Pursuing more development work under the original contract maximizes NASA's investment and partnership with SpaceX," NASA announced on March 23.

The agency also announced that it plans to bring in other U.S. private companies, which haven't been selected, to build lunar landers in parallel with SpaceX. NASA said it will issue a draft solicitation in coming weeks that spells out requirements for a "future development and demonstration lunar landing capability to take astronauts between orbit and the surface of the moon."

"This effort is meant to maximize NASA's support for competition and provides redundancy in services to help ensure NASA's ability to transport astronauts to the lunar surface," said the agency.

According to NASA's schedule, SpaceX's first crewed mission to the moon (Artemis III) is the next step following an uncrewed demonstration landing, which itself will be preceded by an uncrewed trip around the moon by NASA's Space Launch System and Orion crew capsule. The lunar lander concepts the agency is now soliciting would be for "ferrying astronauts between lunar orbit and the lunar surface for missions beyond Artemis III," according to NASA.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said that under the Artemis program the agency will conduct "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 carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade," he said. "Thank you to the Biden administration and Congress for their support of this new astronaut lander opportunity, which will ultimately strengthen and increase flexibility for Artemis."