In a few years, NASA astronauts are going to return to the moon. And the conditions of return much more comfortablethan those of the pioneers. This is because they will return to the Starship, which is 50 meters long from tail to nose. But Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong were content with only 7 meters. They were not just cramped, but very cramped, which can be seen in the photographs of that time.
This expedition is also distinguished by the fact that it will be implemented by a private company – SpaceX. News about this has already been published on Habré, and the choice is really a key moment in the history of astronautics. The private company – and only this company – is responsible for the design, testing and implementation of the two flights to the moon. One of them, manned, should take place as early as 2024.
Of course, all this is far from free: SpaceX received $ 2.89 billion for the project. These are huge funds, but they were spent for the good – Elon Musk’s company will be able to significantly speed up the flight preparation process. A private company is more free in its actions than a government agency, and Musk is known for the fact that, albeit with a delay, he successfully implements most of his plans.
If SpaceX succeeds at the start, then in the future NASA may conclude a much larger contract for the implementation of regular flights to the moon. And all this will cost the agency much cheaper than its own lunar program (yes, there is a government alternative, but its existence is in question).
Why NASA chose SpaceX
This is largely due to the fact that the company has not just a project, but a whole prototype of a spacecraft capable of flying not only to the Moon, but also to Mars. This is, of course, Starship. A number of his tests were unsuccessful, but nevertheless, the design is gradually being improved, and one can hope for a successful test flight in the next few months.
A year ago, NASA selected three winners for a project to develop a system for delivering people to the moon. These were Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX. The first provided a traditional design and a three-stage lander. Synetics has developed a reusable lander of a new type. But both systems were not very large: as in the Apollo program, they could have delivered a modest amount of payload and a few people.
Starship maneuvers to change position
SpaceX, without thinking twice, proposed Starship – a huge ship designed to colonize Mars. It is much easier for him to fly to the moon, moreover, he can gain more competitors than the example of cargo and people. Starship can deliver several dozen people to Mars in just six months. It takes much less time to fly to the moon, and perhaps even more people can be taken. That is, you can found a colony from the very first start, if, of course, you take this issue seriously. At the same time, the company, as mentioned above, has a real prototype, and not only drawings and theoretical justification.
There is one “but” here. To implement the plans, the company will have to not only finalize the Starship, but also develop a technology for refueling the spacecraft with methane and liquid oxygen in low Earth orbit. Nevertheless, the management of NASA clearly believes in the successful outcome of the project, so it entrusted the implementation of the most complex project to a private space company. And even before Starship managed to land after a successful flight.
Mutually beneficial cooperation
SpaceX has both the money and the technology, but the company still needs NASA’s help to implement its Mars colonization project. As an intermediate stage, the company may well help the agency to master the moon, or at least prove the possibility of returning to a natural satellite of the Earth. This stage can be considered the final one before the flight to Mars.
SpaceX, in partnership with NASA, is killing two or more birds with one stone. The company got the opportunity to test its technologies, practice a flight into deep space and landing on the moon, even if it is much closer to Earth than Mars.
NASA, in turn, has received a reliable partner with a number of the latest technologies that will help humanity return to the moon. The agency has been studying the possibility of returning to the moon and flying to Mars for decades without taking particularly decisive steps in this direction. And now he has everything he needs.
There is one more important point. SpaceX’s work on the Moon or Mars will sooner or later require the installation of atomic systems to generate electricity. A private company will not be able to gain access to such systems, or it will be an extremely difficult process. But by working with a government agency, you can be sure that the US government will help resolve the issue.
Why is NASA sponsoring an actual competitor?
On Habré, the Space Launch System super-heavy launch vehicle from NASA has been mentioned more than once. It took a huge amount of resources to develop it, and the rocket is still not ready. But even if they were ready to use it very often, it would not work: one launch costs $ 2 billion. This is a huge amount, which the same SpaceX company will have enough to create several of its own rockets, which can be used a second, third, or tenth time.
SpaceX has said it can build one Starship a month, and the Starship and Super Heavy have a payload of 100 tons. The Space Launch System has about the same payload. But thanks to SpaceX, NASA will be able to send 100 tons of payload every month if the need arises. In the case of using SLS, launches can be made about once a year. Simply because the SLS is very expensive to operate.
As part of the Human Landing System program, NASA has approved the Starship and Super Heavy spacecraft. The agency actually finances a competitor to SLS, but it does so with deliberate intent. The $ 2.86 billion invested in SpaceX is much less than the amount that was invested in the development of SLS. Perhaps the agency will eventually stop trying to commission this ultra-expensive rocket altogether and stop at SpaceX’s transport.
Thanks to the partner, the agency will be able to carry out space programs for the exploration of the Moon and Mars much faster and at lower costs than in the case of finalizing its own rocket. In general, it is difficult to call it a competitor – the shortcomings of the SLS in comparison with Starship and Super Heavy are too obvious.
In the dry residue
It will not be superfluous to reiterate that the collaboration between NASA and SpaceX is a win-win situation for both organizations. The partners’ capabilities complement each other and can speed up the work of both a government agency and a private company. The potential for this cooperation is very high.
I would like to hope that all this will lead to the rapid realization of the dream of many people – the development of near-earth space and deep space.