SpaceX and NASA have now made history together on multiple occasions. Most recently, the duo completed the first crewed mission conducted by a private spaceflight firm to the International Space Station (ISS).
Now, NASA and SpaceX have their sights set on loftier goals. According to The Washington Post, the space agency announced that it has awarded Elon Musk’s company a contract to build a lunar lander for its Artemis mission.
The contract, which is worth $2.9 billion, means that a SpaceX vehicle will be responsible for putting humans back on the moon at some point this decade. It will be the first time the feat has been accomplished since the Apollo program was terminated back in 1972.
Obviously, this is a major deal for SpaceX. It also sets a precedent within the private spaceflight sector that there is a key player to beat when it comes to securing just about any contract.
Anytime human exploration of the moon is discussed, it’s big news for those in the spaceflight industry. After nearly 50 years, the U.S. is almost ready to put human boots on the lunar surface. This time, the faces will look different given that NASA aims to land a woman and a person of color on the moon for the first time.
The vehicle the astronauts ride in will look different as well. Rather than a rocket and capsule built by NASA, it will be constructed by SpaceX. The private firm pitched its massive Starship rocket for the Artemis missions. It will carry the crew to the moon and back and they’ll touch down in a smaller lunar lander.
So far, SpaceX hasn’t had much success with Starship. The huge craft has exploded during each test flight due to various failures.
Still, NASA has faith in SpaceX to figure out the problems and build a functional version of Starship in the near future. To get there, the company plans on conducting an orbital test of the spaceship later this year.
By nabbing the Artemis contract, SpaceX has cemented itself as the clear leader in the private spaceflight world. One could argue that it already did so after delivering the first crew of ISS astronauts safely to the orbiting lab late last year.
Now, though, SpaceX has a chance to make even more history. By flying astronauts to the moon aboard a private craft, the company would cement its legacy.
In the meantime, it’s worth noting that SpaceX beat out a number of competitors for the contract. Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin teamed up to try and win it and still were unsuccessful. Defense contractor Dynetics was also turned away.
While NASA has a history of keeping its partnerships with private companies diverse to promote competition, it’s clear that the agency prefers working with SpaceX. That preference will be even more evident as the two continue to work together in the coming years.