With SpaceX’s Starship in the lunar equation, NASA and its partners can more confidently envision a permanent future on the moon. Then will come the planet Mars.
The last decade has been a bit frustrating for NASA which, following the withdrawal of the spaceship in 2011, had no way to send its astronauts into space. The frustration was all the greater that under the leadership of the Trump Administration, the United States was asked to return to the Moon to stay there. However, things are starting to change.
NASA has indeed made significant progress on the side of its super-heavy launcher SLS and its Orion capsule. After a decade of development and billions invested, the two structures should perform a test flight in a few months as part of the Artemis I mission. But above all, the agency has set its sights on SpaceX as its sole supplier for its future lunar landers.
The amount of the contract between NASA and SpaceX is only $ 2.89 billion. This agreement includes Starship development costs, an unmanned demonstration test and a crewed landing from 2024.
A few days after the disclosure of this contract, the Inspector General of NASA issued a report including the costs of the landing system initially planned by NASA for its next human landing on the moon: $ 17.3 billion. So, with the contract price with SpaceX, NASA has saved over $ 14 billion. This means that the agency can now begin to focus on what it could accomplish on the Moon, having the budget to target a landing as early as 2024, but also to develop a true permanent lunar program without the need for systematically go through Congress.
We’re only just starting. The Starship program is still in testing in Texas and there is no guarantee that the vehicle will be operational by 2024. However, it is only when you solve the “transportation problem” that you can truly focus on what could be. done once there. And with the Starship, the possibilities are endless.
Towards a permanent human settlement
In addition to the cost savings inherent in the development of the spacecraft, it will be able to deliver a phenomenal amount of payloads to lunar soil. After refueling in low orbit, such a machine carrying only cargo could indeed deposit more than fifty tons on the surface as part of a round trip, according to the estimates by physicist Casey Handmer. An exhaustible vessel, which lands on the Moon and remains there, could in turn deliver over two hundred tons of cargo to the moon.
It is difficult to apprehend such a cargo. To better understand, we could for example consider the lunar module used in the framework of the Apollo program. In a “freight”-only configuration, it was estimated that this vehicle could bring about five tons of payload on the lunar surface. Thus, Starship would have the ability to bring back more than forty times more material on our satellite by mission. This is the key to sustainability.
If the Starship program delivers on its promises, NASA would no longer have to contemplate brief forays to the Moon, but could build one or more bases very quickly and inexpensively, ultimately allowing permanent human settlement.