CAN YOU PROVIDE MORE DETAILS ABOUT THE ARTEMIS PROGRAM AND SPACEX’S INVOLVEMENT IN RETURNING ASTRONAUTS TO THE LUNAR SURFACE

The Artemis program is NASA’s ongoing effort to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 and establish a long-term human presence there. Its goals include landing the first woman and next man on the lunar south pole region by 2024. Furthermore, NASA aims to build a sustainable lunar architecture and infrastructure necessary to support lunar exploration missions once every year thereafter. An additional goal is to use the Moon as a testing ground and proving ground to advance technologies and resources needed for future missions to Mars.

SpaceX is playing a critical role in supporting NASA’s deep space exploration plans under Artemis. In 2021, NASA selected SpaceX to develop the first commercial human lander to return astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. Known as Starship, SpaceX’s fully reusable super heavy-lift launch vehicle is intended to be the primary transportation method to reliably and affordably send significant amounts of cargo and people to the Moon and Mars.

Under the $2.89 billion contract awarded by NASA, SpaceX will use Starship to land astronauts on the Moon’s surface for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. NASA’s goal is for Starship to annually transport six astronauts from lunar orbit to multiple locations on the lunar south pole region where astronauts will conduct extended surface missions for up to a couple weeks.

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Specifically, SpaceX is responsible for developing the Starship human landing system variant capable of the high-energy transfer orbit needed to travel from Earth to lunar orbit. This includes the flight-proven Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket that will propel it. Starship is a fully integrated, orbital-class launch vehicle that can transport over 100 metric tonnes to low Earth orbit, according to SpaceX’s specifications. For crewed Artemis missions, an enhanced version of Starship designed for human safety and robustness will be used.

Starship’s capabilities are well-suited to minimize the complexities and risks associated with lunar surface missions. It will provide an unprecedented combination of mass and volume to send significant amounts of cargo, habitats, rovers, and other payloads to the Moon needed to establish sustainable long-term exploration. Being fully reusable allows Starship to drastically reduce the costs of lunar exploration compared to traditional expendable approaches.

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After launching on the Super Heavy booster, Starship will remain in lunar orbit using onboard propulsion while crews onboard Orion, NASA’s crew capsule, approach and dock. Orion and its service module provide safe passage for astronauts traveling from Earth to lunar orbit. Once the Orion crew capsule docks, up to four Artemis astronauts wearing xEMU space suits will transfer across and board the waiting Starship for their journey to the lunar surface.

Upon arrival on the Moon, Starship’s spacious descent stage serves as a landing platform and habitat capable of supporting crews for up to 6.5 days. It has more than twice the interior space as the Apollo command module and service module combined. Not only will it land the astronauts, but Starship can also transport scientific instruments, experiments, rovers, habitats, supplies and more to sustain lengthy surface expeditions. Its departure stage later returns to lunar orbit to rendezvous and dock with Orion.

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SpaceX will perform a series of uncrewed demonstration missions to refine and prove out Starship’s capabilities before crewed Artemis missions occur. This includes proving out aspects like high-precision landing technology through multiple in-space demonstrations and on the lunar surface. The first lunar flights will focus on delivering substantial amounts of cargo before humans. This delivery of cargo will support later surface activities by Artemis astronauts and enable other agencies and commercial partners through NASA’s Artemis Accords.

SpaceX’s Starship human landing system represents a paradigm shift that will enable NASA to achieve its objectives under the Artemis program in a safe, innovative and cost-effective manner. With reusable Starship providing the main transportation method, ambitious exploration of the lunar surface will be made practical in ways not possible with traditional architectures. If successful, Starship will cement SpaceX as a leader in advanced heavy-lift launch and human space transportation while also establishing the technologies needed to eventually send the first astronauts to Mars.

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