NASA has just announced the award of the vehicle that will take its next astronauts to the Moon. And the result has been a surprise. Of the three candidates selected a year ago, the one chosen has been Space X. The future lunar module will have a shape very similar to the Starship which is being tested now (and which, so far, has already garnered several failed landings).
The rejected candidates were actually business associations with prestigious names in the aerospace field. The so-called National team, led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, included Lockheed-Martin and Northrop-Grumman – Grumman built the Apollo lunar module and Draper – designers of the computer that controlled the moon landings. Another team grouped several dozen lesser-known contractors under the Dynetics name.
Space X was going solo; yes, with the formidable resume that represented its rocket recovery techniques, the fact that it was the first commercial company to send astronauts to the space station and the tests it is carrying out with its new spacecraft Starship. Elon Musk intends to use it one day to go to Mars; now it seems that your first target will be the moon.
Blue Origin received further financial support from NASA ($ 579 million, more than half the total allocated to previous studies). Dynetics took 253 million and Space X, 135
Of the three projects presented, Blue Origin’s was the most conventional: a landing craft much larger than the lunar module of half a century ago, but essentially following the same design guidelines, with a descent stage to be abandoned in the Moon and an ascent to take off for a future station in orbit around the natural satellite. Perhaps due to the prestige of the companies involved, it was the option that received the most financial support from NASA (579 million dollars, more than half of the total allocated to previous studies). Dynetics took 253 million and Space X, 135.
NASA’s decision seems largely driven by budgetary reasons. The National Team project was much more expensive. It is no longer the time of the Apollo and Congress is spinning fine when it comes to allocating funds for lunar projects. Space X, for its part, adjusted its economic proposal downwards. Regarding the third competitor, despite the originality of its design, the Agency has considered that some technical aspects did not seem completely resolved.
The jackpot ($ 2.89 billion) went to Musk’s company. Of course it is a fortune, but not as much as it seems. In today’s dollars, developing the lunar module half a century ago cost ten times more. Of course, as a guarantee, the contract stipulates that Space X must carry out a demonstration (unmanned) moon landing.
NASA and Space X thus become partners for the exploration of our satellite
NASA and Space X thus become partners for the exploration of our planet’s natural satellite. The project assumes that the astronauts will be launched from Cape Canaveral aboard an Orion capsule powered by a giant SLS rocket (which has not yet flown). Thus they will arrive at the lunar orbit, where a Starship to bring them to the surface. After a stay of perhaps a week, the same vehicle will take flight to return them to the ship Orion, the only one capable of returning to Earth. As an aperitif, unusual images are already circulating on the Internet that show the two ships moored nose to nose. Few had imagined such a scenario just a few weeks ago.
No heat shield
This scheme simplifies the development of the Space X vehicle. Since it will not have to return to Earth, it will not need a heat shield. And since there is no atmosphere on the Moon, it will not be possible to perform the aerodynamic braking and straightening maneuver that is now being tested. A few retro rockets and a simple landing gear will be enough for Starship sits on the moon, much the same as the one they’ve been using for years to retrieve rockets Falcon.
Musk had speculated to put a Starship into Earth orbit this summer
What will be necessary is to have the launcher to send it to the Moon. The first prototype is almost finished at the Space X launch site in Boca Chica (in Texas, next to the Mexican border). It is somewhat larger than the ship itself, and the set of both stacks will measure 120 meters, 10 more than the Saturn 5 moles and will weigh about 5,000 tons. It is not yet decided whether it will launch from there, from the Kennedy Center or from a floating platform.
When will these monsters fly? Elon Musk had speculated on putting a Starship in Earth orbit this summer. Probably a display of optimism. But not entirely disposable. After all, many of your fantasies impossible (recoverable rockets) have already become a reality; Others are on the way (to achieve the controlled landing of their future Martian ship) and others, finally, it seems that they will materialize in the next few years: the first woman to step on the Moon will arrive aboard a rocket dreamed of by Elon Musk.
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