Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. won a NASA contract to develop a system for landing astronauts on the moon, beating out two other bidders, fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and a unit of Leidos Holdings Inc.
NASA awarded the $2.9 billion human-lander contract on Friday after 10 months of development work. SpaceX’s contract covers two lunar landings: A test flight to the surface without crew followed by a trip carrying astronauts.
SpaceX’s plan depends on refining its Starship vehicle and Super Heavy rocket, which are also in development, as a fully integrated lunar landing system. The Starship craft is nearing its fifth test after the previous four suffered mishaps including fires and an explosion.
“We awarded the SpaceX contract given the appropriation we have and what we believe are realistic budgets in future years,” said Steve Jurczyk, NASA’s acting administrator.
NASA officials said they remain committed to using the Boeing Co. SLS rocket and Lockheed Martin Corp. Orion crew capsule — both of which enjoy Congressional support despite extensive delays and cost overruns — to fly astronauts to lunar orbit as part of the Artemis program. NASA will also continue development work on a lunar gateway that orbits the moon, an astronaut way station to and from the moon’s surface.
That means SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy rocket won’t carry NASA astronauts from Earth and back as part of the agency’s current plans. The company has articulated ambitious commercial plans for the vehicle, including rides around the moon and to ferry future pioneers to Mars.
SpaceX said in a tweet Friday it was “humbled” to help NASA begin a new era of human space exploration. Musk said in a separate tweet the company was “honored” to be part of the Artemis program.