KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – NASA has awarded SpaceX a $1.15 billion contract to develop an improved version of its Starship lunar lander and fly a second crewed mission.
NASA announced on Nov. 15 that it has completed a contract amendment to what is formally known as option B of its Human Landing System (HLS) contract with SpaceX. Option B includes upgrades to the Starship lander originally selected by NASA for HLS in April 2021 for $2.9 billion. The option also includes a second manned demonstration landing mission.
“Continuing our partnership with SpaceX through Option B advances our resilient plans for regular manned transport to the lunar surface and establishing a long-term human presence beneath Artemis,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA HLS program manager, said in a statement. “This critical work will help us focus on developing durable, service-based lunar landers anchored to NASA’s requirements for regular missions to the lunar surface.”
NASA announced its intention to exercise option B in March when it unveiled its Sustaining Lunar Development (SLD) effort to fund the development of a second Artemis manned lunar lander. SpaceX was unable to compete for the SLD award, but NASA said it would instead use the option in SpaceX’s original HLS award to upgrade Starship for later Artemis missions that will carry more astronauts and be on the air for longer periods of time. moon will remain.
When NASA announced its intention to exercise option B, it wasn’t clear when that second mission would fly. However, agency officials said last month that the Option B mission would be Artemis 4, a mission NASA had previously planned to dedicate to work on the Lunar Gateway and without a landing. The lander selected for development under SLD would not fly its demonstration mission until Artemis 5.
SpaceX continues preparations for a first Starship orbital launch attempt at its test site in Boca Chica, Texas. In a Nov. 14 static fire test, SpaceX fired 14 of 33 Raptor engines in the vehicle’s Super Heavy booster, the most ignited in a single test. SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk tweeted afterwards that the company would follow the test with a 20-second engine test, “possibly another static fire, then an attempted launch into space.”
At an Oct. 31 meeting of the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations Committee, Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for Artemis Campaign Development at NASA, said the first attempted launch of a spacecraft into space could be as early as December. take place. That schedule depended on both testing the vehicle and obtaining a launch permit from the Federal Aviation Administration. He said NASA was closely following that upcoming test flight as one of the milestones in the development of the lunar lander version of Starship.
NASA is currently asking for proposals for the second Artemis lander, with a December 6 deadline. The agency expects to award a prize for that lander in June 2023.