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NASA Picks SpaceX to Build New Lunar Lander -- 2nd Update

16/04/2021 11:57pm

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By Doug Cameron 

NASA on Friday awarded a contract to SpaceX to build a new capsule to land astronauts on the moon, the latest in a string of lunar-related wins for the Elon Musk-controlled company.

SpaceX beat out two rivals for the Human Landing System moon taxi that will carry astronauts to and from the moon's surface from an orbiting capsule as early as 2024. The contract is part of a larger Artemis program led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to explore and develop deep space. That program relies more heavily on the private sector and commercial funding than previous efforts.

The lander deal adds to the products SpaceX is developing, with recent funding rounds raising its valuation close to $100 billion as it pursues a mix of new rockets, space taxis and an array of hundreds of satellites for military and commercial customers.

SpaceX already flies astronauts on behalf of NASA to and from the International Space Station and is developing a large new rocket called the Super Heavy to launch the Starship vehicle on which its lunar lander is based. The Starship has made a series of test flights from Texas, some of which have ended in failure after exploding on landing.

NASA plans to use a new rocket made by Boeing Co. for a moon mission known as Artemis 1 as early as November. It would fly around the moon before returning the Orion crew capsule produced by Lockheed Martin Corp. to Earth.

Current plans call for a second crewed test in 2023 that would be followed the next year by the first astronaut landing since 1972, using the SpaceX moon taxi to transfer to and from Orion. The final schedule for the Artemis program depends on contractors developing and testing the equipment and securing funding for the program.

"If they're hitting their milestones, we may have a shot at 2024," NASA Acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said at a news conference.

Boeing's Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule are both owned by NASA, but the lunar lander is the largest part of Artemis to rely on a public-private partnership and is owned and run by SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Mr. Jurczyk said in response to a question that there were no plans to drop the Boeing rocket in favor of the SpaceX Super Heavy for the crewed moon missions.

Boeing's own Starliner space taxi has yet to reach the space station after an uncrewed test flight fell short in 2019, with a second attempt expected later this year.

Closely held SpaceX beat out competition to build the initial lander from Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and the Dynetics unit of Leidos Holdings Inc. Mr. Jurczyk said the single winner worked with NASA's budget plans, and officials said that later flights would be opened to competition.

Write to Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 16, 2021 18:42 ET (22:42 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2021 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

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