SpaceX's Lunar Lander Explained As NASA Seeks More Ideas for Moon Mission

NASA has announced that SpaceX will have competition when it comes to putting a commercially operated crewed spacecraft on the surface of the moon as part of the Artemis mission.

The space agency announced on Wednesday it is asking other American companies to propose lunar lander concepts capable of taking astronauts from lunar orbit to the moon's surface.

The proposals will form part of the Artemis missions after Artemis III, currently set to land its first astronauts on the moon in 50 years.

The second commercial contract, known as the Sustaining Lunar Development contract, represents a second pathway for lunar lander development alongside the ongoing work with Elon Musk's SpaceX.

NASA said the effort is meant to maximize NASA's support for competition and provides redundancy in services to help ensure NASA's ability to transport astronauts to the lunar surface.

SpaceX was selected by NASA as a crewed lunar-landing partner in April 2021. The company's lunar lander is known as Starship, and it is expected to travel to the lunar surface no sooner than 2025.

As part of the Artemis mission, will see the first person of color and the first woman step foot on the surface of the moon. NASA has also allotted a further mission to SpaceX's Starship spacecraft along with those already planned.

Not only will Starship ferry crew to the moon, but Musk's SpaceX says it will also transport large amounts of cargo that will form the building blocks of future space exploration research and human spaceflight development.

The fully reusable Starship spacecraft and its Super Heavy rocket launch system is predicted to be the most powerful launch vehicle ever developed, capable of lifting cargo exceeding 100 metric tonnes into orbit around Earth.

Starship is powered by three reusable methalox staged-combustion Raptor engines, which began flight testing on the prototype rocket in July 2019.

This lifting power and cargo-hauling capability will improve sustainability in space, allowing for longer space missions and enabling the moon to be used as a stepping stone to the exploration of Mars. Starship is also planned to travel to the red planet multiple times, with its heat shield designed to withstand multiple entries into the Martian atmosphere.

The new commercial spacecraft which will join Starship in journeying to the moon, and will be built in accordance with NASA's long-term lunar landing requirements.

It will have to possess the capability to dock at a planned lunar orbiting space station known as Gateway, increase crew capacity, and have the capacity to transport more science and technology to the surface.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a statement to the press: "Under Artemis, NASA will carry out a series of groundbreaking missions on and around the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap for humanity: a crewed mission to Mars.

"Competition is critical to our success on the lunar surface and beyond, ensuring we have the capability to carry out a cadence of missions over the next decade. Thank you to the Biden Administration and Congress for their support of this new astronaut lander opportunity, which will ultimately strengthen and increase flexibility for Artemis."

Astronaut Starship
(Main) An illustration of SpaceX's Starship on the lunar surface. (Inset) An illustration of an astronaut looks out from a Lunar Lander on the surface of the moon. NASA has announced that SpaceX will have competition in terms of commercial vehicles travelling to the moon with the agency. NASA