NASA has booked another crewed flight to the lunar surface with SpaceX.
In April 2021, NASA announced that it had selected SpaceX’s next-generation Starship as the first crewed lunar lander for the agency’s Artemis lunar exploration program. Starship will land astronauts near the moon’s south pole in 2025 as part of the Artemis 3 mission, if all goes according to plan.
This September, NASA announced it was accepting proposals from other companies that want to provide crewed landers for Artemis as a way to create redundancy and sustainability for the lunar program.
SpaceX was not allowed to bid in this other round, but agency officials announced at the time that they plan to exercise an option in the company’s existing contract to award future ground missions.
On Tuesday (November 15), NASA officially used this “Option B” by choosing Starship to carry astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis 4 mission, scheduled for 2027.
Related: NASA Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Operational Updates
Related: NASA Artemis Lunar Exploration Program
“The continuation of our joint efforts with SpaceX under Option B contributes to our sustainable plans to regularly transport crew to the surface of the Moon and establish a long-term human presence under Artemis,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, Human Landing System Program Manager at NASA Marshall Space. This is stated in the message of the Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. (will open in a new tab) on Tuesday.
“This important work will help us focus on the development of sustainable service lunar landers that meet NASA’s requirements for recurring missions to the lunar surface,” she added.
The news delighted SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. “Thanks a lot, SpaceX won’t let NASA down!” The billionaire entrepreneur and new owner of Twitter tweeted on Tuesday (will open in a new tab).
Starship is still in development, though the huge ship could soon make a big leap: SpaceX is gearing up for the program’s first-ever orbital test flight, which could launch before the end of the year.
The Artemis program has an even bigger milestone: the Artemis 1 mission is scheduled to launch early Wednesday (November 16) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Takeoff will occur within a two-hour window that opens at 1:04 am EST (0604 GMT) if all goes according to plan. You can watch it live here on Space.com.
Artemis 1 will use the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to send an uncrewed Orion capsule on a 26-day journey to and from lunar orbit. The mission will be the first flight for SLS and only the second for Orion, which reached Earth orbit in 2014 on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
If all goes well with Artemis 1, Artemis 2 will send a crewed Orion around the Moon in 2024. Then comes Artemis 3, which will use the starship for the first crewed lunar landing since the last Apollo mission in 1972.
Artemis 3 will actually be Starship’s second moon landing; NASA wants SpaceX to make an uncrewed test landing before taking astronauts to the surface of the moon.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (will open in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrations by Carl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (will open in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (will open in a new tab) or on facebook (will open in a new tab).