Surprising choice: Last year, NASA granted 3 various teams agreements to more create their very own propositions for lunar landers: $135 million to SpaceX, $253 million to protection firm Dynetics (which was collaborating with Sierra Nevada Corporation), as well as $579 million to a four-company group led by Blue Origin (collaborating with Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, as well as Draper). 

SpaceX didn’t simply get the least quantity of cash—its proposition likewise gained the most awful technological as well as administration scores. NASA’s associate manager (currently acting manager) Steve Jurczyk created (pdf) that Starship’s propulsion system was “notably complex and comprised of likewise complex individual subsystems that have yet to be developed, tested, and certified with very little schedule margin to accommodate delays.” The unpredictabilities were just intensified by SpaceX’s infamously bad performance history with conference target dates.

What altered: Since after that, SpaceX has actually experienced a variety of various trip examinations of numerous major Starship models, consisting of a 10-kilometer high-altitude trip as well as secure touchdown in March. (It likewise blew up a couple of times.) According to the Washington Post, files recommend NASA was captivated with Starship’s capacity to transport a great deal of freight to the moon (approximately 100 bunches), and also its $2.9 billion proposal for the agreement, which was much less than its opponents’. 

“This innovative human landing system will be a hallmark in spaceflight history,” says Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA’s program manager for the lunar lander system. “We’re confident in NASA’s partnership with SpaceX.”

What this means: For SpaceX’s rivals, it’s a devastating blow—especially to Blue Origin. The company, founded by Jeff Bezos, had unveiled its Blue Moon lander concept in 2019 and has publicly campaigned for NASA to select it for future lunar missions. Blue Moon was arguably the most well-developed of the three proposals when NASA awarded its first round of contracts.

For SpaceX, it’s a big vote of confidence in Starship as a crucial piece of technology for the next generation of space exploration. It comes less than a year after the company’s Crew Dragon vehicle was certified as the only American spacecraft capable of taking NASA astronauts to space. And it seems to confirm that the SpaceX is now NASA’s biggest private partner, supplanting veteran firms like Northrop Grumman and shunting newer ones like Blue Origin further to the sidelines. However, there’s at least one major hurdle: Starship needs to launch using a Super Heavy rocket—a design that SpaceX has yet to fly.

For NASA, the biggest implication is that SpaceX’s vehicles will only continue to play a bigger role for Artemis, the lunar exploration program being touted as the successor to Apollo. Former president Donald Trump’s directive for NASA to return astronauts to the moon by 2024 was never actually going to be realized, but the selection of a single human lander concept suggests NASA may not miss that deadline by much. The first Artemis missions will use Orion, and the long-delayed Space Launch System rocket is expected to be ready soon.