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Less than 6 months after its blatant Federal Aviation Administration launch license violation, SpaceX has won the contract to build NASA’s lunar lander spacecraft that will eventually put humans on the moon. SpaceX was among three companies under consideration for building the lunar lander, a cornerstone of NASA’s Artemis program. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Orchid and the somewhat lesser-known Dynetics out of Alabama both put in their own bids for the project, however SpaceX took the grand prize of the $2.9 billion contract.
Billionaire Elon Musk’s space exploration company has garnered much media attention in recent months; aside from the FAA violation, each of its Starship spacecraft tests have ended with an explosion. NASA hopes to launch a manned mission of the lunar lander by 2024 using a successful model the Starship fleet, which has yet to be developed. SpaceX has been fervently building new prototypes of the Starship to meet the rapidly approaching target date for the manned mission launch, which will mark the first human contact with the moon in over half a century.
The Starship spacecraft won’t actually carry the astronauts directly from the Earth to the moon; Boeing is currently developing the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket which will transport the space travelers from earth to the Gateway space station. From there, the astronauts will commute to the moon’s surface via the Starship.
NASA has struggled to secure funding for the Artemis program from Congress. The SLS program’s over-budget, behind-schedule operations have only compounded the issue, with many in the space community expressing their belief that the Starship can complete the entire mission without help. NASA has said that, despite the original plan to work with multiple contractors on the lunar lander project, price was a major factor for choosing SpaceX alone.
Canada Plans to Launch Moon Rover by 2026
Canadian Science Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne says Canada has plans to land a rover on the moon within the next five years.
The North American country will begin development on a robotic lunar rover in collaboration with NASA, Champagne announced on Wednesday. The Canadian Space Agency says an unmanned lunar rover would be used to collect imagery and measurements on the moon’s surface, while showcasing technology from Canadian companies.
The Canadian Space Agency said in a statement released Wednesday, that the mission will last one lunar night, which lasts about two weeks, and presents a wide range of technological challenges due to the extreme cold and dark of the moon’s surface.
Canada has ramped up the North American nations ambitions for space in recent years in large part by promoting Canadian commercial space technology companies. Three different commercial technologies based in Canada that have been funded by the Canadian Space Agency’s Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program are scheduled for lunar surface tests in 2022.
These include new planetary navigation systems developed by NGC Aerospace Ltd, an AI based flight computer developed by Mission Control Space Services, and multiple lightweight panoramic cameras developed by Canadaensys. Canada has been a primary partner of NASA in the development of the Artemis program of crewed lunar exploration, which hopes to establish a long-term sustainable presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade.
Technology from Canada is also supplying a robotic arm for the Artemis infrastructure, a moon-orbiting space station named ‘Gateway’.
CSA astronaut David Saint-Jacques, wearing his flight suit, was present at the Wednesday announcement and is one of the Canadian based candidates for a four person mission traveling around the moon in the coming years.
The announcement came on the same day that the moon drifted through the Earth’s shadow, creating a superflower blood moon. The pledge to put a rover on the moon falls under the $150 million lunar exploration plan funded by the Canadian federal government, signed in 2019.
In addition to this plan, the Canadian government signed a deal with the U.S. government to send more Canadian astronauts to the moon as part of the Artemis mission in order to develop a sustainable presence on the moon.
SpaceX NASA lunar lander contract suspended following formal protest from competitors
Just two weeks after it announced its $2.9 billion contract to build NASA’s lunar lander spacecraft, Elon Musk’s SpaceX has been asked to put the project on hold in light of formal protests filed with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) by competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics. All three space engineering firms had originally been in talks with NASA to collaborate on the Artemis project, which will be the first to put humans on the moon since the Apollo 17 mission nearly 50 years ago; however due to budgetary limitations, NASA chose to only work with SpaceX instead of all three companies.
SpaceX’s Starship rocket system, which is under development for both private and public use ferrying humans and cargo to the Moon and Mars, won the contract for its payload capacity and $2.9 billion bid — far cheaper than what Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin or Dynetics could offer, according to a NASA source selection document
In a lengthy formally-filed protest, Blue Origin accused NASA of making last-minute changes to the proposed lunar lander project that sacrificed the integrity of the project. It also claimed that NASA failed to attempt to negotiate a proposed price with it, where it had done so with SpaceX.
Bezos’s space firm called NASA’s decision “high risk,” claiming that the decision “eliminates opportunities for competition, significantly narrows the supply base, and not only delays, but also endangers America’s return to the Moon.”
“Pursuant to the GAO protests, NASA instructed SpaceX that progress on the [Human Landing System] contract has been suspended,” NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said in a statement.
True to his devil-may-care attitude with regard to most matters, Musk responded to the Blue Origin protest on Twitter:
SpaceX sends four astronauts to the International Space Station
24 hours after liftoff from the launch site in Florida, the manned SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule safely docked with the International Space Station on Saturday morning. The Crew-2 flight is the second of its kind, with the newly-landed astronauts to relieve those who previously made the flight on the Crew-1 mission of their 6-month duties. Two American, one Japanese, and one European joined seven others from the US, Japan, and Russia already aboard the station.
The six-month mission has already reached some impressive milestones. The Friday launch marks the first reuse of a manned spacecraft capsule since the mid-1960s. In an all-time first, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster that propelled the capsule into space was reused as well. The Crew-2 mission was also SpaceX’s first to transport scientists from three different agencies: NASA, ESA, and JAXA.
Eleven astronauts is the highest number the station has seen in recent years, presenting some logistical problems for the four-day “direct handover” period before the Crew-1 astronauts return to earth. The Space Station has accommodations for up to seven people, meaning that two astronauts aboard will have to sleep in the docked capsules, and two others will be without beds.
Despite these challenges, the eleven ISS passengers have expressed exuberant excitement about their gathering. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who was aboard the Crew-1 capsule which launched in November 2020, tweeted a photo of the eleven astronauts with this caption:
Crew-1 will depart the ISS on April 30 following a weather-related delay, and is expected to splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on May 1st after spending 18 hours in orbit.