The Moon exploration will part of the wider Artemis programme, which eventually aims to send people to Mars.
The chosen Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit.
There, says Nasa, two crew members will transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After approximately a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their short trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.
The total award value of the milestone-based contract is $2.89 billion. Blue Origin and Lockheed Martin were among the other companies bidding for the contract.
“With this award, NASA and our partners will complete the first crewed demonstration mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st century as the agency takes a step forward for women’s equality and long-term deep space exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate. “This critical step puts humanity on a path to sustainable lunar exploration and keeps our eyes on missions farther into the solar system, including Mars.”
SpaceX’s HLS Starship will be based on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles, says Nasa.
NASA has selected Starship to land the first astronauts on the lunar surface since the Apollo program! We are humbled to help @NASAArtemis usher in a new era of human space exploration → https://t.co/Qcuop33Ryz pic.twitter.com/GN9Tcfqlfp
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 16, 2021
Starship will include a “spacious” cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks. The Starship architecture is intended to evolve to a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.
During the Artemis programme, NASA is commited to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon.
Image: SpaceX – An artist’s impression of a SpaceX Starship human lander design for carrying NASA astronauts to the Moon