The Starship spacecraft was first announced as NASA’s primary spacecraft provider in January, but since then it has changed hands several times. The company may have had to change plans for the moon landing after a series of delays and budget overruns. In addition, NASA is unlikely to certify a new spacecraft, thereby delaying the first crewed landing until 2024. But the news isn’t all bad for NASA. The company is now the preferred supplier of the agency’s lunar lander, and may even be the only one able to perform it.
The Starship is designed to meet NASA’s requirements for sustainability. It will incorporate reusable elements and robust capabilities to support a lunar landing. It will also have the capability to dock with the NASA Orion spacecraft and lunar Gateway space station. After it lands on the moon, it will take on passengers. As NASA works to develop the technology, the company has launched a competitive procurement process for the HLS systems that would be used for later Artemis missions.
While SpaceX is not abandoning its plans for the Moon, it has been launching prototypes of the Starship. The tests have been disastrous and ended in fiery explosions. Despite the tumultuous launch, the SpaceX Starship rockets appear to be working perfectly. As the company has been developing its Starship, the rockets seem to launch flawlessly. They soar into the stratosphere and shut down their engines. They then land on their bellies and deploy wing flaps to control their descent. But so far, the rockets have failed to successfully land. The first two prototypes crashed into the ground at high speed. The third one landed safely, but the fourth had a major crash landing, when the company relit its engines.
The company has conducted a series of tests of its Starship prototype and has successfully landed one on the moon. But the main challenge is to get the Starship into space. It will need to be powered by a rocket, a heavy-lift rocket, and a reusable lunar lander. The SpaceX Super Heavy booster will carry the Starship to the moon. A SpaceX Super Heavy launcher will carry the Starship into orbit, but it will have its own set of Raptor engines.
The SpaceX Starship spacecraft has been under development since the mid-2010s. The company’s version of the Human Landing System (HLS) is being developed under contracts with NASA and will launch astronauts on the moon. A future Moon lander is expected to cost about $2.9 billion, which is more than double the price of a rocket today. This is a huge amount of money, so it’s not a surprise that the company needs NASA’s support to make it a reality.
The company’s prototype has performed four high-altitude tests since December 2020. Its first test flight landed in one piece, but the second exploded after landing. The two prototypes are still undergoing tests, but one of them has landed in orbit and is more reliable than the other. So far, SpaceX hasn’t confirmed a lunar landing. The project will launch in March 2022.
The company has conducted numerous tests of its full-scale Starship prototype. In March, it successfully flew 10 kilometers in the sky and exploded a couple of times. However, the concept has a high risk of failure. Its high cost may prevent it from landing on the Moon, but it’s more than enough to demonstrate the feasibility of the spacecraft. In the end, the question is: Can Starship land on the moon?
The company is developing a new lunar vehicle that is based on the Starship. The spacecraft’s design has a retro-looking nose and tail, reminiscent of the Lunar Excursion Module of the Apollo program. But will the next spacecraft be able to land on the Moon? That remains to be seen. It will be the most ambitious and challenging vehicle in history. In addition, it must learn to refuel in low-Earth orbit and refuel during its flight.