NASA chooses SpaceX for moon orbital missions with Dragon XL, Falcon Heavy

Mar 28, 2020 2:00 AM ET

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with the Arabsat 6A communications satellite will launch on April 11, 2019 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Thom Baur | Reuters

On Friday, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration selected SpaceX as the first supplier to bring cargo around the moon to the agency’s gateway station. This is a huge order win for Elon Musk’s space company.

SpaceX said it would use a new variant of its cargo spacecraft, the Dragon XL, to “transport more than 5 tons of cargo in moon orbit to the gateway”. The company will lift the spacecraft with its Falcon Heavy rocket, the most powerful rocket in the world.

“To return to the moon and support future space exploration, substantial amounts of cargo must be delivered affordably,” said SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell in a statement.

SpaceX has been launching cargo to the International Space Station with its spacecraft Cargo Dragon under a similar NASA contract since 2012. In addition, SpaceX launched its Falcon Heavy rocket three times. A Falcon Heavy rocket costs between $ 90 million and $ 150 million per launch, depending on the circumstances.

NASA expects to receive $ 7 billion in supply contracts as part of the gateway program. These include multiple Gateway missions, each lasting between 6 months and a year.

Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as used by the second stage of the Falcon Heavy in high earth orbit on the way to the gateway in moon orbit.


“This award is another important part of our plan to return to the moon sustainably,” said NASA leader Jim Bridenstine in a statement.

Gateway is a small spacecraft that NASA wants to orbit around the moon to accommodate astronauts and conduct scientific experiments. Bridenstine described Gateway as “the cornerstone” of NASA’s Artemis program, which is the agency’s plan to land US astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024.

“This commercial cargo capacity in space is integrating another American industrial partner into our plans to explore Humanity on the Moon to prepare for a future mission to Mars,” said Bridenstine.

SpaceX has completed 20 cargo missions to the International Space Station since its first in 2012.

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