What we know about the first starship to land on the Moon

We know that the next astronauts to land on the Moon will do so aboard a SpaceX Starship. In anticipation of this landing, NASA requires a first unmanned test flight to test the vehicle’s capabilities. According to the agency, the one that will land on the lunar soil as part of this test flight may just be a skeleton of the version that will transport astronauts during the Artemis 3 mission.

A few months ago, NASA set its sights on SpaceX as the sole service provider as part of its manned lunar landing project. Finally, under pressure from Congress, the agency revised its copy, preparing a new contract for a second service provider that will soon be chosen. Still, it is SpaceX that will be responsible for landing the first humans on the Moon since the end of the Apollo era. This landing will be carried out as part of the Artemis 3 mission to be launched in 2025 minimum.

To operate, SpaceX will rely on its starship, still in testing. The idea will be to transfer astronauts from the Orion capsule, propelled into space by the SLS rocket, to Starship. The vehicle will then land on the surface. It will then take off to transfer the astronauts to Orion, which will bring them back to Earth.

Before that, however, NASA requires a demo mission. More recently, the agency shared new details about this test flight.

One goal: to land

Specifically, the spacecraft that will make this unmanned landing will not be identical to the vehicle later used to transport the astronauts on Artemis 3.

For the unmanned demonstration, the objective is to have a safe landing“, said Lisa Watson-Morgan, program manager for the Human Landing System (HLS), during the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) annual meeting held on August 23. ” It will only be a “skeleton” because it will only have to land. He won’t have to take off again“.

This landing will take place in the south polar regions of the Moon. However, we still don’t know exactly where. NASA recently shared several potential landing sites for its manned mission, but this test flight could land elsewhere, with the idea of ​​” preserving science in the future not interrupting any possible Artemis 3 locations.

NASA and SpaceX will leverage this test flight to integrate various sensors and other payloads into the vehicle. In fact, even if it means going to the moon, you can take the opportunity to do a little science anyway, especially since even if it’s just a skeleton, the starship will have the capacity to carry large instruments. . It is for this reason, among others, that NASA is keeping an eye on this vehicle.

Illustration of a spaceship on the Moon. Credits: NASA

An elevator to go down to the surface

Also during that meeting, Lisa Watson-Morgan said that SpaceX has so far been a ” fantastic partner“. The company was also involved in the Artemis 3 landing site selection process to ensure that potential landing regions are compatible with the starship. NASA engineers and astronauts also visit SpaceX facilities for hardware analysis and testing.

Among these tests is one of the ship’s unique attributes: a elevator that allows astronauts to go from the crew cabin to the lunar surface. ” It’s a very big landing. It doesn’t look like the traditional structures we’ve all seen in the past. So it might be hard to reconcile that mentally“, underlined the researcher. She also ensured that the elevator design was robust, multi-fault tolerant and designed to operate in lunar conditions.

However, many aspects of the starship’s overall lunar landing architecture still remain unclear. For example, we know that SpaceX will have to launch a “tank” ship around the Earth to supply what goes to the Moon. However, it is not yet known how many launches will be needed for a single landing mission.

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