(CNN) – SpaceX has won a $ 2.89 billion contract with NASA to build the spacecraft that will transport astronauts to the moon for the first time in five decades.
The flat-rate contract is an important vote of confidence for Elon Musk’s rocket company, as the space agency places much of the responsibility for its pioneering manned spaceflight program on SpaceX. Known as Artemis.
Friday’s announcement is a blow to Blue Origin, the rocket company founded by Jeff Bezos, which has proposed working as a “national team” alongside giants such as Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin to design and build a lunar lander, and for Alabama-based Dynetics. , Which made her own suggestion. Ultimately, however, SpaceX won its bid to use a spacecraft that the company is already developing on its own in South Texas.
This vehicle, called the Starship, is also the mainstay of Musk’s personal goal of landing the first humans on Mars. Test flights of early spacecraft models ended in explosions, but the company is quickly building new test vehicles.
Last year, NASA announced three different contracts to develop the Lunar Lander, which was awarded to SpaceX’s “national team” and Blue Origin, with both companies expected to work on embodying operational and competition vehicles. Each other in terms of price and technology.
NASA’s Human Landing System or HLS program manager Lisa Watson-Morgan said during a press conference Friday that NASA “supported each partner, providing design support analysis, subject matter experts, and guides” to all of these providers during that phase.
Watson Morgan added that NASA will continue to monitor closely while SpaceX continues to develop, “to ensure that this system is safe for our astronauts.”
Boeing is building another key component for the Artemis program: the Space Launch System, or SLS, which is a giant rocket designed to transport the Orion crew capsule to the moon.
This is the rocket that will carry the astronauts into lunar orbit, after which the crew will move to the Gateway space station, and from there, the spacecraft will transport the astronauts to the surface of the moon, according to Latson Morgan.
Frustrated space society
Several members of the space community They expressed their frustration By the fact that NASA has stuck with the SLS program, considering that the SpaceX spacecraft would theoretically be able to complete the entire mission. Plus, the SLS development program is billions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
NASA said SpaceX will also have to conduct an unmanned demonstration mission and land the spacecraft on the surface of the Moon, before astronauts fly on board.
The surprise announcement Friday that SpaceX will be the sole owner of the contract comes after the space agency fought for two years to persuade Congress to adequately fund the Lunar Lander module development program.
The space agency confirmed that price was a major factor in its decision to go ahead with a single contractor.
Hand in hand cooperation
The announcement of Artemis’ contract indicates that NASA is ready to place great confidence in SpaceX, which has a history Clashes To the space agency for their rocket development strategy, which is to move quickly and break things.
But in recent years, the company has worked closely with NASA to achieve remarkable milestones, most notably the manned spaceflight in SpaceX’s Dragon Vehicles, which began last year and carried astronauts on two trips to the International Space Station. . Crew Dragon saw the return of manned spaceflight from US soil for the first time since 2011.
SpaceX was also pre-selected to build another version of Dragon to transport cargo to Stargate, the space station NASA plans to put into orbit around the moon to support a future lunar base where astronauts can live and work for extended periods of time.