back to article Elon Musk's SpaceX bags $3bn NASA contract to, fingers crossed, land first woman on the Moon

NASA today announced the next US lunar mission will use SpaceX's HLS Starship to put American astronauts on the Moon's surface. Elon Musk's rocketry biz thus scoops a $2.89bn contract to put the first woman and the 13th man on the Moon as part of the American space agency's Artemis program. NASA will use its own much-delayed …

  1. Mishak

    To do list

    1) Design and build HLS Starship variant.

    2) Design and build in-orbit refuelling Starship variant.

    3) Complete development of Super Heavy booster.

    SpaceX are going to be busy!

    Good luck guys, and well done.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: To do list

      But now they have some funds to help make that happen, and fast.

      Might even be able to do a couple of test landings on the moon first, not like the pilots would be able to see the surface anyway...

      1. Vulch

        Re: To do list

        The contract is to do one unmanned test landing followed by the crewed one.

        1. Wellyboot Silver badge

          Re: To do list

          Once the lander is built there's not much stopping SpaceX from going to the Moon anytime they want.

      2. Richard Boyce

        Re: To do list

        Cameras could provide a stereoscopic image of the approaching surface, but I doubt the pilots will be flying manually, as the Apollo crews did.

        1. Dave 15 Silver badge

          Re: To do list

          As long as there are no lorries, police cars, obstacles etc etc then they could take on the Teslas self driving software, no danger at all with that.

          The Apollo computer was capable of landing BUT the astronauts all thought they were pilots so didnt want to be landed without getting their fists on the controls.

          As to seeing the surface thats easy enough to arrange with those old fashioned things called windows, or if you really want a periscope to see right underneath... but whatever technology there could be quite a bit of dust in the way of a good view

          1. stiine Silver badge
            FAIL

            Re: To do list

            They were all pilots, mostly test pilots.

          2. A.P. Veening Silver badge

            Re: To do list

            The Apollo computer was capable of landing BUT the astronauts all thought they were pilots so didnt want to be landed without getting their fists on the controls.

            Small correction, the astronauts at that time were all jet pilots, so wishing to keep their hands on the controls was (understandably) completely natural to them.

          3. Pascal Monett Silver badge

            Re: the astronauts all thought they were pilots

            Newsflash : they were pilots.

            You need to update your knowledge of the Apollo program. All of the astronauts were test pilots and, before that, jet fighter pilots.

            As for the computer, I don't know where you get the notion that it could have landed the module by itself. The Apollo Guidance Computer barely had RAM, and the little it had would not have made it able to land the module, not to mention judge a landing site. It was fine for interstellar trajectory control - which the crew of the Apollo 13 demonstrated they could do just as well.

        2. tfb Silver badge
          Alien

          Re: To do list

          The Apollo astronauts didn't fly the LEM manually: it landed almost entirely under computer control. In some cases they gave control input to the computer program, such as the last stages of the Apollo 11 descent where they needed to find a good place to land (I think maybe all the missions did this in fact), but this was very far from 'flying manually': the computer was always in the loop.

          1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

            Re: To do list

            tfb,

            The LEM was fly-by-wire. But you don't say that someone flying an Airbus manually isn't flying manually, just because the computer is still invovled.

            Armstrong came off the automatic flight control and also flew in a way that hadn't been normally simulated, while searching for somewhere flat. That's manual flying by any useful definition.

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: To do list

      Since Musk has fingers in the EV pie, perhaps he could throw in a Moon Rover as well.

      putting a Tesla up there would be something of an advertising coup.

      1. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: To do list

        I wonder how long it would take before it crashed into something?

      2. Dave 15 Silver badge

        Re: To do list

        No you have me thinking... of course put a fast charger on the moon and have an electric rocket... maybe a fast charger or two in orbit as well?

    3. Scott Broukell

      Re: To do list

      Aren't you forgetting something - First, build a giant film studio in order to record the entire make believe adventure! wE aLl knOw mOon lAnDingS R A hOax!

      1. Grikath
        Devil

        Re: To do list

        Don't need to..It's all CGI nowadays..

        The only question.. Will it be Alphabet or Amazon that will be in on that deal...

  2. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    Elon's Musketeers

    While I wish the focus was on the Lunar Gateway and in orbit refueling, I'm still excited.

    Besides landing, the Starship is well on its way to being astronaut rated. The Super Heavy prototype launch vehicle has been stacked for initial tests. The refueling is not a part of this contract. And Twitter is ready and waiting for Elon.

    A pint to the Musketeers (and the proposal writers). Best of luck.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Booster Number 1 + refuelling

      BN1 has already been cut into big pieces which are being scrapped. There are some (relatively) small pieces of BN2 and BN3. They are currently stacking SN16 and some big propellant tanks for use on the ground.

      There will be in orbit refuelling, but not explicitly defined by NASA. NASA wanted many details about prospective human landing systems but left how each HLS gets to Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit to the each provider.

      Starships can put 100+t in low Earth orbit. The maximum payload drops rapidly for higher energy orbits because of the propellant that must be reserved for re-use. Getting the lunar Starship to NRHO requires refuelling in LEO for a "small" cargo and further refuelling in a highly elliptical orbit for the full 100+t. Getting a tanker Starship with a full cargo of propellant to meet another Starship in that elliptical orbit requires refuelling the tanker in LEO.

      After the uncrewed test trip from NRHO to the Moon and back the lunar Starship will need refuelling for then next (crewed) mission. That will require sending a tanker Starship (or several) to NRHO (and back) and that tanker will need to be refuelled at LEO to get to NHRO. The payload for the second trip to the Moon also has to get to NRHO - by cargo Starship, which again requires more refuelling.

      One of NASA's concerns with the SpaceX HLS was the large number of refuelling launches required for each trip to the Moon. The SpaceX bid overcame this because the vast majority of refuelling events take place in LEO so scheduling and extra refuel to cover a failure does not cause a huge delay or cost increase compared to any trip to NRHO.

      One of the bits I liked was what happens if you are on the Moon and decide your ascent vehicle is busted. With a Starship you have a massively oversized cargo bay for extra food, a large LOX tank to breath and a methane+LOX to burn to stay warm and to provide water. The really scary thing about the Lunar Gateway is if you miss your launch window from the Moon you have to wait another 7 days for the gateway to get back to where you can meet it. Starship gives you three places to wait that out: the crew habitat and each of the two airlocks has independent life support.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Re: Booster Number 1 + refuelling

        I think there are a lot of forward looking statements. So these videos are great-

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zxTWXU_CoLM

        Showing the NASA 'lander', which is basically just an empty shell. Along with some neat views of Raptor engines being moved around, and segments of Starships being shifted. Which I guess also demonstrate differences in approach, ie traditional space stuff being built & assembled in nice clean rooms, and Starships being put together in tent cities.

        It's an interesting concept though, but much work still to be done. Like actually getting a Starship into orbit and back to Earth in one piece. Then demonstrating that the in-orbit refuelling can work, and then creating both cargo and human-rated Starships. And perhaps if bits of Starship could be assembled into a Lunar Gateway.

        Seems to be the kiss of death for SLS though.

      2. Adair Silver badge

        Re: Booster Number 1 + refuelling

        It's the old 'Towers of Hanoi' puzzle - with the added frisson of a possible 'KA-BOOM!' all along the way.

  3. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    Contract omission

    Should have specified Musk has to accompany the designated astronauts to the moon and back.

    1. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Contract omission

      I'll give you an upvote, as he'd probably like to go.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Contract omission

      Plus No 45, 45 junior and a whole bunch of other [redacted] [redacted].

      Just send an OTA while it is there that alters the final destination to Mars and we will all be happy down here.

    3. Claverhouse Silver badge

      Re: Contract omission

      Why back ?

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Contract omission

        Just so that the accompanying astronauts are returned safely with him.

        In true Bond Villain fashion, he may have a personal escape pod

    4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Contract omission

      If that were in the contract firstly Elon would stipulate he takes a Starship for the ride to NRHO and for the return journey to Earth rather than displace one of the fearless astronauts from the Orion Capsule and SLS. Secondly the new NASA administrator would bump him off the mission so he could go himself. Luckily Biden has just proposed someone very competent for NASA deputy administrator.

  4. PhilipN Silver badge

    ..land first woman on the Moon..

    First woman : Eve.

    Will be quite an achievement, that.

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Alert

      Re: ..land first woman on the Moon..

      One small step for [a] man, one long journey for woman

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: ..land first woman on the Moon..

      Perhaps they mean Lucy, but then they should really spring a little extra cash for some diamonds.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obvious

    With such a shining list of amazing triumphs behind it the decision was obvious, I mean, they've launched and landed simply hundreds of rockets. Given the obvious advantages of the self crashing Tesla to fall back on then there is zero danger of failing to be the first rocket to crash into Saturn with a bunch of astronauts sleeping soundly.

    Or maybe someone received some share gifts in the same way as Hancock and his sister - nothing of course to do with subsequent decision making eg?

  6. Binraider Bronze badge

    It can’t be just me that’s noticed how redundant SLS is in this project. The only reason it’s still in is good old fashioned job creation schemes!

    If sls evolves into some sort of remote space station launcher I guess there is vaguely an argument for it still. Vaguely.

    1. Julz Silver badge

      Yep, old school tech repurposed to fulfill current budgetary requirements. Might even fly...

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      It is not just you

      Even some politicians have noticed a disturbance in the pork. Stay away from fans unless you want to get splattered.

  7. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    Proof, if it were needed, that the concept of private-enterprise space flight is a myth. Without huge government funding, SpaceX would be nowhere.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      SpaceX are developing Starship anyway (for Mars). Funding for that is self-generated (including Starlink).

      NASA are paying to be taken to the moon and back.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        You really believe Musk is going to Mars? Its only PR stunt, you naive.

    2. Malcolm Weir

      @Ian Johnston.... that isn't really accurate.

      Yes, the USG bought the early Falcon 1 _launches_, but those were the "per copy" costs, not the development bucks. Likewise, NASA paid to have a usable Dragon capsule in operation, but the total amount was $396.... which sounds a lot, but the price of a Falcon 9 launch is $62M, and this was while NASA was paying $56M per seat on Soyuz, so basically NASA paid SpaceX the price of 7 Soyuz seats to get the (uncrewed) Dragon. "Huge funding" isn't really accurate.

      Yes, Crewed Dragon was a really significant investment by NASA ($2.6B), but again, compare it against (a) what it would have cost NASA to develop the same capability (see SLS!!!), and (b) what the actual unit costs work out at (because those numbers include a number of launches).

      SpaceX also pockets large wodges of cash from the US military, but as suppliers, not development contractors. When they launch a GPS satellite for 70% of the price of the incumbent (ULA) -- which they do -- it's clear this is not the typical government-funded operation.

      But here's where it gets interesting: Falcon Heavy was privately funded (hence the payload: Musk's roadster), Starlink is privately funded (1,378 satellites launched and operational to date), and Starship is privately funded.

      Sure, they couldn't have got this far without the government's help, but that's true of a lot of businesses (telecomms, IT, aviation, transportation); separating pure private development from development for particular customers is hard and pointless!

  8. Gene Cash Silver badge
    FAIL

    HUGE slam for SLS

    When NASA doesn't even go with their own home-grown rocket... daaaannng.

    1. druck Silver badge

      Re: HUGE slam for SLS

      If they are going to use Starship to land on the moon, I really see no point in developing SLS just to get the astronauts along side for a transfer.

  9. Ken Hagan Gold badge

    Sub-heading: "And the 13th guy"

    Any particular reason why it can't be two women? Has that decision already been taken?

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Sub-heading: "And the 13th guy"

      You wait 50 years for a woman to be sent to the moon, then 2 turn up at once

    2. Andy The Hat Silver badge

      Re: Sub-heading: "And the 13th guy"

      I would prefer to see a single sex crew (either gender) as that could provide logistical advantages rather than having a 'token' female on board to fulfil a requirement.

      This should be a mission, with a crew, not a publicity stunt for gender equality with a "woman astronaut" - though I feel from the press release that NASA have already made that decision.

      1. zuckzuckgo Bronze badge

        Re: Sub-heading: "And the 13th guy"

        Why not send an all female crew and not bother with the token men?

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Long time between space drinks

    Watched Apollo as a kid.

    Expected many more manned missions to follow.

    Mars etc...

    ...long pause...

    ...very long pause...

    Now hoping to see the Moon again.

    Not quite the outcome we expected in the rocket mad 60s.

    1. Adair Silver badge

      Re: Long time between space drinks

      People have been busy with more important things: destroying their home life support system.

      Go figure.

  11. Sparkus Bronze badge

    NASA Astronauts are already retiring

    rather than ride on Boeings capsule, how many will do the same rather than risk a ride on the SpaceX Bottle Rocket?

    1. Malcolm Weir

      Re: NASA Astronauts are already retiring

      Have you seen a Soyuz?

      A huge difference between (say) Apollo -- where everything had to work right just once -- and Falcon is the proof of the design in the repeatability... It's a good design and flying the thing repeatedly proves it.

      (Yes, we lost two Shuttles... but both of those losses came about from failures in the non-reusable pieces: Challenger because of the O-rings in the SRB, and Columbia because of the insulation on the External Tank.)

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wither SLS

    This $2.9bn dollars does of course give NASA an interesting alternate if SLS runs into (more) problems

    In order for SpaceX to get a lander into lunar orbit - they will need lift to orbit and translunar capability. As a crew module is needed for the lunar lander how much extra is needed for the Starship lift to be manned (or send a crew up in a Dragon on a falcon 9), It's going to be as tested as the SLS launch vehicle for the first launch. As for landing - there's nothing stopping them keeping Starship in earth orbit (or landing unmanned) and using the manned certified landing system they already have - dragon - sent up to meet starship for the crew return - possibly the one they used to get the crew up there.

    From the US government point of view (even if not NASA) this has to be something they are considering given the ongoing delays and overspend in SLS.

    1. Binraider Bronze badge

      Re: Wither SLS

      Getting Starship human-rated for launch and landing on Earth is probably a whole-lot more complex than it would be for human-rated for the Moon. Therefore, a plan for Earth orbit rendezvous of a Starship Lander with a refueller and a crew Dragon; leaving Starship on-orbit for multiple missions would seem eminently sensible.

      I still fail to see what purposes The SLS/Lunar Gateway component serves besides being a communications satellite. A job that can be done with much smaller and cheaper hardware; without the added complications of the fuel-expensive rendezvous between lander and the gateway.

      I do feel somewhat bad saying that as both Orion and the ESA designed Service module are impressive machines in their own right. They just look rather redundant versus a working Starship with refuelling capability.

      More missions with less risk sound preferable to me over less missions and more risk for the sake of printing money in certain electoral battlegrounds. But what do I know.

  13. Blackjack Silver badge

    We already landed on the moon several times. What's the point? I am not being dismissive, I honesty want to know whatever the point is.

    1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      In the words of former NASA Administrator, Michael D. Griffin:

      The goal isn't just scientific exploration.

      ... It's also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time. ... In the long run a single-planet species will not survive. ... If we humans want to survive for hundreds of thousands or millions of years, we must ultimately populate other planets. Now, today the technology is such that this is barely conceivable. We're in the infancy of it. ... I'm talking about that one day, I don't know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it. We may well have people living on the moon. We may have people living on the moons of Jupiter and other planets. We may have people making habitats on asteroids ... I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

  14. hoola Silver badge

    Sceptical

    There is a lot of talk about refuelling satellites, mostly LEO and some research has been done but there is currently no capability. There are Now just look at the scale or the problem?

    Refuelling a satellite is complex enough but the mass and size involved is small in comparison to this. Also if it does go pear-shaped whilst it would be messy with considerable wider impact, lives are not at risk. We are pretty good now at linking up in space with the ISS so that part should be relatively straight forward, the difference comes in the payload of fuel and fuel transfer.

    I am sure that it can be done but the timescales for something that is still theoretical appear ambitious.

  15. Dom 3

    On merit?

    If I were the woman chosen to land on the moon I would want to be there because I was the best person for the job, not because of lack of Y chromosome.

    Women tend to be lighter, too, and tend to consume less food, so for journeys out of LEO they are arguably far more suitable.

    1. Spherical Cow Silver badge

      Re: On merit?

      If Apollo astronauts (and before that, test pilots) had been chosen on merit, by now there would already have been some women on the Moon and this conversation wouldn't be happening.

      NASA now has lots of suitable astronauts who have *all* been chosen on merit, some of them are women, so why not pick one of those?

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