SpaceX has won a substantial NASA contract to develop the first ever commercial lunar lander which will put humans back on the moon.
The $2.9bn contract will see Elon Musk’s company provide the craft responsible for the first manned moon landing since Apollo 17 in 1972, cementing it as one of America’s leading aerospace corporations.
The lunar lander will carry two American astronauts to the moon’s surface as part of NASA’s Artemis Programme, but NASA official Lisa Watson-Morgan stated on Friday that SpaceX must carry out a successful unmanned test landing before humans make the journey.
SpaceX’s Starship prototype has undergone several high-altitude flight tests as of late, with the most recent launch last month ending in failure as the craft exploded shortly after beginning the landing procedure.
NASA’s timeline for the upcoming lunar expeditions is aggressive with projections for the first manned moon landing targeted for as early as 2024.
At a recent video conference, NASA’s acting administrator Steve Jurczyk said: “We should accomplish the next landing as soon as possible. This is an incredible time to be involved in human exploration, for all humanity.”
Should the SpaceX Starship prove both safe and effective on the planned lunar missions, Musk’s company will likely play an integral role in humanity’s exploration of the solar system in the coming decades.
Musk has been vocal about his intentions to put humans on the surface of Mars for some time, a goal which aligns with the latter stages of NASA’s Artemis Programme.
Operating under the directive of placing the next man and the first woman on the Moon by 2024, the Artemis programme aims to not only to leave human footprints on the Moon once again, but to establish an orbital presence around the Moon.
This orbital ‘Gateway’ craft will constitute a habitable refuelling hub, logistics outpost and transition point to the lunar surface for future missions and exploration.
According to the Artemis Programme Overview, NASA aims to have a long-term presence established on the Moon by the end of the decade, working with international space agencies and commercial partners to construct the Artemis Base Camp.
NASA’s Space Launch System responsible for sending the Artemis II crewed mission to orbit the Moon in 2023 recently reached a key milestone, successfully completing its biggest test to date on 18th March 2021.
If NASA can maintain this aggressive timeline, the ‘Gateway’ orbital habitat and the Artemis lunar base camp could well be deployed by the end of the decade.