News

SpaceX Awarded $3B Contract for Moon Mission

SpaceX has won a $3 billion contract with NASA to build a spacecraft to carry astronauts to the moon, the agency announced Friday.

NASA is getting ready to send astronauts to explore more of the Moon as part of the Artemis program. SpaceX will continue the development of the first commercial human lander that will carry the next two American astronauts to the lunar surface.

Other companies in contention were Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Leidos subsidiary Dynetics. All three companies were previously awarded a total of $967 million to develop concepts for the vehicle. The new award to SpaceX was a surprise. It was expected that the contract would be distributed to multiple companies.

The NASA Space Launch System rocket will launch four astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft for their multi-day journey to lunar orbit. Two crew members will then transfer to the SpaceX human landing system (HLS) for the final leg of their journey to the surface of the Moon. After a week exploring the surface, they will board the lander for their trip back to orbit where they will return to Orion and their colleagues before heading back to Earth.

At least one of those astronauts will make history as the first woman on the Moon. Another goal of the Artemis program includes landing the first person of color on the lunar surface.

Nikxice

Active Member
Oct 31, 2014
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Whoa, this is huge news! Looking forward to more details on how NASA plans to integrate a Starship HLS into the Artemis program.

So, 2 of the 4 astronauts will transfer from the small Orion capsule to a Starship lander? Seems like an extra process, but for now it keeps funding alive for SLS/Orion/Gateway.
 

HVM

Savolainen
Oct 30, 2012
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Finland
This says good things about the new NASA administrator and the new administration supporting commercial activities.
dsmGaKWMeHXe9QuJtq_ys30PNfTGnMsRuHuo_MUzGCg.jpg

Selection team needs those remarks...
 

HVM

Savolainen
Oct 30, 2012
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Do you all remember AF tanker program selection? We need wait a bit, but as SpaceX fanboy this is good news. (Just land that #15 intact).
 

HVM

Savolainen
Oct 30, 2012
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Finland
Lol, did't take long:

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) made the following statement.
“I am disappointed that the Acting NASA leadership decided to make such a consequential award prior to the arrival of a new permanent NASA Administrator and Deputy Administrator. The decision to make the award today also comes despite the obvious need for a re-baselining of NASA’s lunar exploration program, which has no realistic chance of returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2024. While work continues on the upcoming Artemis-1 mission, it will be critically important for the new NASA leadership team to carry out its own review of all elements of NASA’s Moon-Mars initiative to ensure that this major national undertaking is put on a sound footing.”

 

Cosmacelf

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Mar 6, 2013
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Lol, did't take long:

Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) made the following statement.
“I am disappointed that the Acting NASA leadership decided to make such a consequential award prior to the arrival of a new permanent NASA Administrator and Deputy Administrator. The decision to make the award today also comes despite the obvious need for a re-baselining of NASA’s lunar exploration program, which has no realistic chance of returning U.S. astronauts to the Moon by 2024. While work continues on the upcoming Artemis-1 mission, it will be critically important for the new NASA leadership team to carry out its own review of all elements of NASA’s Moon-Mars initiative to ensure that this major national undertaking is put on a sound footing.”

No, it didn't take long at all!

When you think about it, it was kinda ballsy for NASA to make this decision before the new NASA head was put in place. Almost looks like they wanted to make the decision before the politicians could screw it up, and I'm fine with that. :)
 

HVM

Savolainen
Oct 30, 2012
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Finland
Have you read the Source Selection Statement? Blue Origin's team proposal was four times more expensive than the HLS budget, and then they changed it to the two times the budget, and asked advance payments... Propulsion testing overlapped landing time frame. Dynetics Team had negative mass margins in their proposal(!). Did any of the contenders outside SpaceX even read the requirements document?

 
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Cosmacelf

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Mar 6, 2013
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Have you read the Source Selection Statement? Blue Origin's team proposal was four times more expensive than the HLS budget, and then they changed it to the two times the budget, and asked advance payments... Propulsion testing overlapped landing time frame. Dynetics Team had negative mass margins in their proposal(!). Did any of the contenders outside SpaceX even read the requirements document?


Thanks for the link! Interesting reading (24 pages). My highlights:

1618667078969.png


There were a lot of good (and some bad relating to complexity) things about the SpaceX proposal, but this document was most excited about SpaceX being committed to using Starship for other commercial endeavors. Indeed, SpaceX essentially gave NASA a 50% price break due to SpaceX's anticipated commercial revenue.

Within Management Area of Focus 4, Commercial Approach, I found SpaceX’s significant strength for its comprehensive plan to leverage its HLS contract performance to advance a multi-faceted approach to commercializing its underlying Starship capability to be a highlight of its management proposal. SpaceX’s plans to self-fund and assume financial risk for over half of the development and test activities as an investment in its architecture, which it plans to utilize for numerous commercial applications, presents outstanding benefits to NASA.

The very first sentence about Blue Origin had this 😂

As an initial matter, I note that the SEP did not identify any significant strengths within Blue Origin’s technical proposal.

In addition to stating that they thought Blue Origin's engine design exceeded the company's likely ability to design it, they had this one liner which I read as an actual engineering mistake?

four of its six proposed communications links, including critical links such as that between HLS and Orion, as well as Direct-to-Earth communications, will not close as currently designed.

This knock was interesting. I am guessing that Blue Origin proposed cryogenic Hydrogen, instead of SpaceX's methane? Hydrogen is much trickier to keep liquid (33K) versus Methane (about 100K) not to mention how hard it is to handle.

Blue Origin’s choice of cryogenic propellant for the majority of its mission needs will require the use of several critical advanced CFM technologies that are both low in maturity and have not been demonstrated in space.

They also didn't like BO's complex descent and ascent operations which required human EVAs to do things external to the craft. Sounds like the "clever" engineers thought they'd save on mass by having the humans do some work, but NASA didn't like the risks associated with this.

And, wow, BO's proposal didn't give the government full data rights. Go figure that a Bezos led company would want to keep some data to itself :rolleyes:

Blue’s proposal further impugns the Government’s potential rights in data by proposing to deliver data created in conjunction with NASA with less than a GPR license; this is prohibited by the solicitation.

I though this was interesting. Congress shot themselves in the foot if they wanted to parcel out contracts to many people. Basically, the HLS funding was too low to award a contract to more than one company:

given NASA’s current and projected HLS budgets, it is my assessment that such negotiations with Blue Origin, if opened, would not be in good faith. After accounting for a contract award to SpaceX, the amount of remaining available funding is so insubstantial that, in my opinion, NASA cannot reasonably ask Blue Origin to lower its price for the scope of work it has proposed to a figure that would potentially enable NASA to afford making a contract award to Blue Origin.

As for Dynetics, the significant technical issue is that the design is currently too heavy for the engine/vehicle capability. This ... is pretty bad. They basically proposed a design that right from the outset won't work.

While Dynetics recognizes and has been actively addressing this issue during its base period performance, its proposal does not provide sufficient details regarding its plan for executing on and achieving significant mass opportunities, especially when in the same breath, the proposal also identifies material additional mass threats.

There were many other issues highlighted with the Dynetics proposal, which to me made it looked like they did a slapdash effort, or with a C team of engineers. BTW, note that NASA gave the teams all of 22 days to respond to the RFP, so if you hadn't done serious work throughout 2020, you were hosed.

BTW, the issue NASA had with SpaceX's complexity had to do with its earth orbit refueling. SpaceX is proposing to launch the moon lander, stick it in earth orbit and then have multiple more Starships dock with it over time to fully refuel it. While NASA didn't like all the moving parts, they tempered this with the fact that all this complexity occurs in earth orbit, where it is much easier to fix things if adjustments need to be made. And also, all this can be done months ahead of the humans being launched, so SpaceX can pre-position a fully fueled Starship around lunar orbit, and even give NASA a 100 day window to get their astronauts there.
 

e-FTW

New electron smell
Aug 23, 2015
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San Francisco, CA
One wonders if this a way for NASA (sans politicians at the helm) to:
  1. Force Congress to up their budget (if they want “competition“ which means a jobs program)
  2. Show the public it could do great things if free of political forces (“I need jobs in my state”)
 

e-FTW

New electron smell
Aug 23, 2015
3,284
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San Francisco, CA
There is also a healthy dose of “never mind the complexity that SLS and Orion and multiple docking operations add to the mix here, because look: JOBS.”
 

Cosmacelf

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Mar 6, 2013
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One wonders if this a way for NASA (sans politicians at the helm) to:
  1. Force Congress to up their budget (if they want “competition“ which means a jobs program)
  2. Show the public it could do great things if free of political forces (“I need jobs in my state”)

Maybe. Or maybe NASA simply followed the rules. Their budget was $X, and here’s what we can buy with X.
 

Cosmacelf

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So Scott Manley released a YouTube video talking about this selection. He totally bollocks it up.

First he said the only reason why SpaceX won is because they were the cheapest. Wrong. SpaceX were the most highly rated.

Scott also failed to mention the big knocks against Blue that I mentioned above. Indeed, the whole tone of his video was one of showcasing all the problems with SpaceX and none with Blue.

On Dynetics, he said he liked their submission the best. Of course, it DOES NOT WORK since it is too heavy. Hell, I can “design” a unicorn fart powered ship that’ll be, like, awesome man. Won’t work, but it’ll have tons of cool features.

Scott concluded by saying he wished Blue would have gotten a contract too. Geez, Scott, ya like wasting my tax dollars that much? Didn’t Boeing’s utter failure and the SLS boondoggle teach you anything at all?

I’ve been kinda getting soured on Manley’s videos lately, this’ll just put a nail in that coffin for me.
 

adiggs

Active Member
Sep 25, 2012
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SpaceX statement:
Sure does sound different from what everybody else is doing.

Short version - we're already doing the development, even before any actual award under this contract. And we're making a lot of progress, and doing it quickly.


My first thought when I read about the award is that SpaceX can do an incredible amount of work with ~$3B. This is going to push SpaceX ahead, even faster than they've been going. Or at the very least, ensure that there is no funding blockage coming up that will cause them to slow or stop Starship development. The way SpaceX goes, $3B might just pay for the whole working system.
 

Cosmacelf

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Mar 6, 2013
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San Diego
I remember when Elon first announced the BFR. Originally, it was a carbon fiber composite design. They even bought or made a huge mandrill to be able to manufacture the rocket skin. Something like two years later, he had switched to stainless steel, and at about the same time announced that he had figured out how to finance BFR, but never told us what that was. I think he was referring to Starlink.

At any rate, this NASA contract is a huge win for him. Not only will it propel SpaceX forward faster, but it puts their competition even further into the rear view mirror.
 

JohnSnowNW

Active Member
Feb 13, 2015
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So Scott Manley released a YouTube video talking about this selection. He totally bollocks it up.

First he said the only reason why SpaceX won is because they were the cheapest. Wrong. SpaceX were the most highly rated.

Scott also failed to mention the big knocks against Blue that I mentioned above. Indeed, the whole tone of his video was one of showcasing all the problems with SpaceX and none with Blue.

On Dynetics, he said he liked their submission the best. Of course, it DOES NOT WORK since it is too heavy. Hell, I can “design” a unicorn fart powered ship that’ll be, like, awesome man. Won’t work, but it’ll have tons of cool features.

Scott concluded by saying he wished Blue would have gotten a contract too. Geez, Scott, ya like wasting my tax dollars that much? Didn’t Boeing’s utter failure and the SLS boondoggle teach you anything at all?

I’ve been kinda getting soured on Manley’s videos lately, this’ll just put a nail in that coffin for me.

I watched his video earlier today and was also underwhelmed by the analysis. Just felt like he was phoning it in, to be honest.

Which is unfortunate, because I've really enjoyed his previous breakdowns.
 

Cosmacelf

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Mar 6, 2013
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I watched his video earlier today and was also underwhelmed by the analysis. Just felt like he was phoning it in, to be honest.

Which is unfortunate, because I've really enjoyed his previous breakdowns.
I liked the stuff he made six months ago. Lately he’s been going downhill just quickly putting up stuff with little actual value added content. He hasn’t been doing the research he used to do.