SpaceX’s Starship sole winner in NASA’s HLS Moon lander program

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk raises his arms in celebration beneath a Starship rocket prototype under construction in Boca Chica, Texas.

Steve Jurvetson on flickr

Elon Musk’s SpaceX beat out teams led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Leidos subsidiary Dynetics to win a nearly $3 billion contract to build NASA’s next crewed lunar lander.

“It is one more step, in an exciting group of steps, that will get us to a sustainable human landing system to the moon,” Kathy Lueders, the leader of NASA’s human spaceflight program, said in the agency’s announcement.

SpaceX’s contract is worth $2.9 billion. The Washington Post first reported SpaceX’s win on Friday.

NASA last year awarded the three teams with $967 million and 10-month contracts to begin work on the lunar lander concepts under its Human Landing Systems, or HLS, program. SpaceX was awarded the least amount of those three, with $135 million. Meanwhile, Dynetics received $253 million and Blue Origin had won $579 million.

NASA was expected to choose two of the three teams, making the sole selection of SpaceX a surprise given the agency’s prior goals for the program to continue to be a competition.

Starship prototype rocket SN11 stands on the launchpad at the company’s facility in Boca Chica, Texas.

SpaceX

For the HLS program, Musk’s company bid a variation of its Starship rocket, prototypes of which SpaceX has been testing at its development facility in Boca Chica, Texas. The company has performed multiple successful test flights of Starship to date, although landing attempts after the last four high-altitude flights ended in a variety of fiery explosions.

HLS is a part of NASA’s Artemis mission to land astronauts on the moon by 2024.

The mission was announced by President Donald Trump’s administration. President Joe Biden’s press secretary has indicated the current administration expects to continue with Artemis.

Bezos’ space company unveiled its plans to build a crewed lunar lander in 2019, announcing it would partner with industry giants Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper in the effort. Leidos-owned Dynetics teamed up with Sierra Nevada Corporation for its concept and was seen as a dark horse in the race.

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