NASA has named three companies that will lead the development of lunar landers for its forthcoming moon programmes - Blue Origin, owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos; Elon Musk's SpaceX, and finally Alabama-based Dynetics.
The 2024 mission will see astronauts walk on the Moon's surface for the first time since 1972.
Beyond new thrusters, a radically different landing strategy, and a painted (and possibly insulated) steel hull, Lunar Starship also features what looks like the tip of a Crew Dragon spacecraft in place of its nose, likely including Draco thrusters and a docking port. SpaceX has also copied the concept of Crew Dragon's trunk section, installing a curved solar array that wraps around a large portion of Starship's conical nose. Developmental assistance will be provided by Draper (flight avionics), Lockheed Martin (ascent module), and Northrop Grumman (transfer stage).
"A lunar optimized Starship can fly many times between the surface of the Moon and lunar orbit without flaps or heat shielding required for Earth return", the company told CNBC. It plans to launch its landing system using its own heavy-lift rocket, New Glenn.
Dynetics, a space firm recently acquired by Leidos Holdings Inc, will manage a team of 25 partners to develop its human landing system that a Boeing-Lockheed joint venture will launch on its Vulcan launch system.
As NASA prepares to return humans to the Moon in 2024, the space agency has chose to take the private route, selecting three USA companies to develop an astronaut landing system. Astronauts will launch from Earth in a capsule called Orion atop a powerful rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS).
The original scheme stipulated the construction of a lunar space station called Gateway, which was projected to be built in cooperation with Russian Federation, with talks scheduled earlier for spring 2020. The Gateway is still on the agenda for use in later missions.
Doug Loverro, associate administrator for Nasa's Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate, commented: "With these awards we begin an exciting partnership with the best of industry to accomplish the nation's goals. We have much work ahead, especially over these next critical 10 months".
The Washington Post reports both NASA and the White House must still convince Congress to fund the program, which is projected to cost $35 billion through 2024. Apollo 13 did not touch down after an oxygen tank exploded.
This time, Nasa wants to establish a long-term presence.
Mr Bridenstine said it was more important than ever for the mission to go forward. "We're going to go sustainably - to stay - with landers and robots and rovers and humans".
A human landing system, or HLS, must safely deliver astronauts to the lunar surface, sustain them for around a week, and then return them back into space.
SpaceX's newly-announced Moon Starship is a fairly radical departure from the Mars-focused, fully-reusable vehicle the company has been pursuing for years.
In short, it appears that SpaceX does not plan on propulsively landing Lunar Starship on the Moon under the power of its main Raptor engines. Dynetics says it will perform a demonstration flight to test key capabilities for its lander system prior to a mission to the lunar surface.
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