Elon Musk's SpaceX might launch Starship to the moon sooner than 2024: Report
Elon Musk has said that SpaceX may be able to launch the spaceship “probably sooner” than the targeted 2024 deadline.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has said that he may be able to launch the new Starship to the moon for NASA “probably sooner” than the targeted 2024 despite a delay in contract and other fronts. NASA selected SpaceX's Starship as the lander of choice for the Artemis human landing system (HLS) in April this year but two situations have held up the contract since the decision was made. The first issue was the protests by competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics. The competitors expressed concern over NASA's decision to pick one provider instead of two and they cited “lesser budgetary funds available for HLS as a probable cause”.
Once the Government Accountability Office (GAO) confirmed NASA's choice of picking SpaceX in a detailed decision published earlier this month, according to reports, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against them. This has lead to work on the HLS getting paused till November at least. NASA administrator told SpaceNews on Monday that he is anticipating “further delay” in the agency's plans for Artemis. Artemis, since 2019, has targeted 2024 for the moon landing.
Musk is known for his optimistic timelines and made the comment about launching before 2024 on Twitter in response to a question asked by the Everything Artemis' unofficial Twitter account. Everything Artemis tagged Musk in the tweet and asked “...Do you expect to have Lunar Starship ready to land humans in 2024 (despite other delays)?”. Musk replied with - “Probably sooner”.
Probably sooner— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 15, 2021
The Everything Artemis account also cited a report from August 14 written by CNBC space reported Michael Sheetz that stated that SpaceX received $300 million from NASA on July 30 after the GAO denied the competitors' protests. However, that is not the only timing obstacle that SpaceX has to overcome.
Earlier this month, the Office of the Inspector General cites a 20-month delay to the Artemis lunar surface spacesuit development that, as the office stated, made the 2024 moon-landing “not feasible”. SpaceNews asked Nelson about whether the human return to the moon, slated for 2024, was off the table and he said - "I can't answer your question whether or not, because of delays on the spacesuit or what I just went through about the appropriations and with regard to the legal postures. I don't know."
SpaceX also has its own development timelines to consider. Starship is a prototype and it has not yet flown an orbital mission. SpaceX wanted to accomplish that by July this year and the system has been stacked on the pad once already as a part of a test. However, the company is waiting for the outcome of a program environmental assessment from the Federal Aviation Administration and the typical timeline for that runs into months.
Other issues that might hinder meeting the 2024 deadline include Congressional funding for HLS, which has not been to the agency's requests so far, the launch of the untested Space Launch System moon rocket that might happen by late 2021, and the ongoing pandemic and the looming threat of the Covid-19 delta variant that might induce fresh lockdowns in the US.
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