There are still major risks with the Starship program so I don't think anyone should be 100% confident they can pull this off, but the massive side benefit is if they do NASA will have proven out a generic system, fully reusable and with orbital refueling, that can with minimal modification cost-effectively send humans to Mars and much of the rest of the solar system as well. A Model T or 737 in space. The original Artemis plan never made much sense as a Mars "proof-of-concept", but it actually does now.
If at some point say 2025, NASA says to the President "we can get the first human on Mars in 4 years for $15 billion" I have to imagine any American president being eager to sign their name on that accomplishment and give the JFK speech, "We choose to go to Mars in this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win"
To me that's the real takeaway here: this is implicitly a huge NASA bet not just on the Moon, but Mars and the rest of the solar system. Finally.
To expand on this: I think it's reasonable to assume that the stack will reach orbit just fine and be a functional rocket.
The big risks are related to recovery. Starship will require in-orbit refueling to go to the moon, so (rapid) reusability is somewhat of a hard requirement.
Superheavy (the first stage) is huge and will land directly on the launch tower instead of using landing legs - to reduce turnaround times. This is innovative and completely unproven. And a RUD would at the very least put the launch tower out of commission for a while.
Starship (the second stage) will also have to survive the high velocity reentry in a good condition and nail the crazy landing maneuver. SpaceX heat shield tiles and the general aerodynamic and thermal properties of the rocket are an unknown for now.
Musk recently said that Starship will probably require "many test flight" to achieve successful reentry and landing.
On top there have been quite a few reliability issues with their new Raptor engine, which need to be ironed out.
I'm sure SpaceX will figure it out, but there are a lot of risks lurking in the development program.
All this makes the choice to go for SpaceX more impressive for the usually so cautious NASA.
But the payoff would be enormous. If the re-usability works out, Starship can completely change the game for the launch market and lift capability.
As far as descent, it will do final touchdown with smaller engines higher up to avoid kicking up rocks. During landing, I think pretty much any one of the 6 raptor engines can be used to abort.
This seems unfeasible without rapid reuse actually working.
I suspect Spacex will develop cooling systems to re-liquefy any gaseous propellants as this will be more of a concern for the ~6 month mission to Mars.
That said, this contract has astronauts boarding Starship in lunar orbit, not Earth orbit.
In SH+SS, the "Starship" part is the second stage, with the revolutionary goal that it can deliver a payload to orbit and then skydive back to earth and propulsively land itself. That has major risks and is unlikely to succeed the first number of attempts, with the loss of the stage and the 6 raptor engines.
The "Superheavy" portion is very much equivalent to a scaled-up F9 booster, and the risks to landing it should be much lower (Elon's crazy catch ideas notwithstanding).
tl;dr I think Starship system can mostly work if it's partially reusable to a similar extent as F9. Losing a half-dozen second stages to do a full orbital refueling for a Moon or Mars mission should still be a fraction of the cost of a single SLS launch, and they can continue working on full reusability while performing missions and cashing checks.
I strongly suspect that they will be building many identical launch towers, it's pretty much their modus operandi and it makes sense. They've already had two Starships queued up at the launch pad for testing. Once they further improve the factory they'll probably need to build out more pads so they can keep the launch cadence up and free up space in the high bay. They're going to need to perfect that process if they are serious about eventually doing thousands of flights per year and sending hundreds of ships to Mars per conjunction. That's going to need a lot of Starships, a lot of launch pads, and probably several factories.
Is it though? The lunar starship itself doesn't depend on reusability. If SpaceX cannot get reusability down, they'll have to expend a few boosters and tankers to get it working. That'll cost them their profit, but it would fulfil the contract.
As for Lunar Starship, it's massively overengineered for the Artemis requirements, capable of taking 100 tons to the Lunar surface. That's great for later missions to set up a base, but even then you'd likely need a crew version just for shuttling people back and forth. So I wouldn't be surprised to see the first version of that to be somewhat scaled down from the concept art. That should massively reduce the number of refuelling missions needed for the early Artemis flights.
Humans will land on earth in Orion capsule not Starship. So there will only be a tanker that has to do the flip.
On the moon, there is no flip.
The Appollo didn't have a abort option is parts of the flight, unless I am misinformed.
> So I wouldn't be surprised to see the first version of that to be somewhat scaled down from the concept art.
The problem is then about how you do the integration. All the tooling and processes are designed for one size of Starship, to change the whole design just to make it smaller is unlikely to be an efficient thing to do.
Instead they could just fly part of it empty and take far less then the full 100t to the moon, rather then design a smaller version.
All they need to do to make a lighter Lunar starship is make it shorter. Just miss out some fuel tank and payload section segments. No need to make significant changes to the functional parts, it would just be stubbier.
the next morning after the first such delivery would feel like a new era because with Starships it will be just like a regular shipping line, less than $1B per 100ton cargo to the Moon taking just several days. The Moon will become more reachable than Philippines were at the time of Manilla Galleons (which would be more like the Mars flights).
I'm glad that Elon is remaining "conservative" in his financing of SpaceX to avoid the quartly Wall Street song & dance.
Edit: Not sure why all the downvotes, so here is a citation. If someone has newer information about it, please post.
> SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell told CNBC in May that the company “can’t go public until we’re flying regularly to Mars.”
"A will happen once X" to me means X is a necessary and sufficient condition for A happening.
"B can't happen before X" implies that X is a necessary condition, but it does not imply sufficiency to me.
If someone says: "I will give you a million dollars once you do a dance", I understand that as a commitment to provide me with a million dollars after I do a dance.
If someone says: "I can't give you a million dollars before you do a dance", I understand that dancing is a requirement for getting the million dollars, but I understand there may be other requirements as well (or they may not be willing to provide the money at all).
Sort of like the virgin galactic subreddit where everyone only talks about the stock. Spaceflight? Boring. A stock IPO? Can't wait! It's pretty depressing.
I'm all about the Mars trips themselves and not the stock, for what it's worth. I look forward to both because both are signs of a strong future for the civilizations on Mars.
And this is just a sort of contractor arrangement. NASA didn't build the Apollo lunar module with civil servants, either, they hired contractors.
Also, this isn't a Tesla project.
why patent such things at all if they're classified? probably to keep other defense contractors from using your technology to compete on bids.
I wonder if NASA has any technology sharing provisions in their contracts? Or at least agreements to make components available for sale to NASA or competitors, and to share as much data as necessary to allow parts from multiple vendors to interoperate.
IIRC, in the Iliad Artemis helps out Ares (which is kinda the Greek version of Mars). Probably just a coincidence (I'm sure Artemis was chosen because she's Apollo's sister), but fun nonetheless.
But yeah, Andy Weir is far from a classic in that regard.
Going to be interesting
That being said, a few small LEO orbital depots makes more sense than Gateway. Or perhaps small LEO and Lunar gateways might make the safety-officer at NASA happier.
However, I think having permanent orbital stations is just as philosophically justified as going to the moon or mars etc. Living in space is amazing and we will learn a lot from it. So why not?
In the long term, Mars is a great refueling station because it has carbon dioxide and water that can be used to make methane, and it has much weaker gravity than Earth. That would make it much easier to access the asteroid belt, which may have a lot of valuable minerals.
There may also be some not-so-obvious benefits to living on Mars. For instance, people with mobility issues may be stuck in a wheelchair on Earth but be able to walk on Mars. (The optics of shipping all our old people to Mars isn't great, but it might actually be a pretty awesome spot for an old folks home.)
Another reason people have for going to Mars is the same as people who migrated from Europe to the Americas: to get away from a political situation they don't like and start a new life. If the optics of sending old people to Mars is bad, the optics of sending, say, Syrian refugees to Mars is even worse, but if someone wants a fresh start that's one way to do it. At least until Mars becomes as dysfunctionally political and tribal as Earth.
In the very short term, sending people to Mars may have a big impact on children being interested in science. I don't know if it's still the case that if you ask an elementary-aged child what they want to be when they grow up, it'll probably either be "an astronaut" or "president of the United States", but I think it was when I was that age.
I'm waiting on powered exoskeletons as my sci-fi mobility aid of choice.
I think this because you can trick most programs into handing over money without giving results, but there isn’t a way to trick physics.
We can barely make places like Antartica survivable! Huge chunks of "totally fine" places like Hawaii only exist thanks to massive shipping industries. If you have a way to build out a livable space on Mars, please give us Earthlings some of that technology cuz it would be pretty useful to a lot of people!
And possibly for individuals as well, given the potentially almost limitless resources available in Space.
And you hit on a good point in your last sentence: Developing a self-sustaining civilization on Mars would PROVE we can easily be sustainable on Earth.
I think the trouble is that people don't get just how bad Mars is. Take the peak of Everest, cross it with Antarctica, and dose it with radiation. Sounds bad? You're still nowhere near as bad as Mars. It's really, really bad.
Over a long enough time frame, the chance is nearly 100%.
A planetary extinction-level event has already happened where every land animal larger than 25kg died. Maybe it won't happen for another 65 million years. Maybe it will happen tomorrow. Maybe there will be a massive gamma ray burst that will sterilize the entire solar system. Who knows?
But just because we will eventually die out doesn't mean that we can't try to do what we can to survive. And anyway, say what you will about Elon's whole "thing", but a life where we're exploring the solar system is more exciting than one where we aren't.
Right, but... Mars is already worse for human life than Earth after every major extinction event. That's like "in case my house catches fire, I'm gonna build a backup house inside a working industrial furnace". If what we're worried about is surviving an event like the several that have affected Earth in the history of life on the planet, Mars is both more expensive and worse than a bunch of other options, including other space-based options (though I think that whole class of solutions is really wasteful compared to boring, Earthbound alternatives). That's a bad reason for going to Mars, is all I'm saying. I'll still be cheering along when the first boot-print is made, mind you.
OK, here: strip Earth of all oxygen and its ozone layer and turn all the land into parched deserts that can barely support even the hardiest of plants. You want to wake up in a sealed shelter on Earth, or on Mars, after that happens? The smart answer is "on Earth" because the list of horrible things about your situation on Mars is still 5x that long, plus all those things are already problems there. Mars is very, very, very bad.
Sports are a branch of the entertainment industry. You don’t get paid to run fast, you get paid to gather crowds. Same for Mars, and it only impacts ideas and hope, not actual well-being. But it’s still required, otherwise people err in Brownian directions.
I hope very much that the new Mars funding will be taken off the football spendings.
It's somewhere around lipstick market worth of ~10B dollar per year.
Howard Stern had a great line in the 90’s about marijuana - “Every time you speak to these guys who dedicate their lives to legalizing marijuana, they go, “Hey dude, you can make rope out of marijuana.” I go, “Dude, don’t we have enough rope in this country?”
Every time I hear talk of spending billions on Mars, I ask “Dude, don’t we have enough red dirt in this country?”
Maybe, Boeing forgot that their bid was addressed to NASA not Congress, they put stuff in there like launching on SLS which certain people in Congress would like, and thought that would be enough to overcome the fact they'd ignored some of NASA's stated requirements.
A former senior NASA manager, Doug Loverro, is under criminal investigation, accused of illegally trying to help Boeing resubmit its bid to make it actually conform with the requirements.
A lot of matters which might only be civil if they occurred between two private companies are criminal when the government is a party to the transaction. And that's true whether the wrong is being committed by a company or by a government official or by both.
SpaceX is a massive vindication of NASA and the commercial contracting approach. The US had been falling behind Russia and then China in launch capacity (even becoming reliant on Russian engines as well as Europe on commercial launch, but last year, SpaceX on Falcon 9 alone launched more mass to orbit than the rest of the world combined.
Almost everything NASA builds is built by contractors. Private companies like Boeing or Lockheed usually get most of it. But just by taking a chance with SpaceX during commercial cargo, NASA saved them and brought American space launch capacity to a level that dominates the world.
And Starship brings it to another entire level. To get a lunar Starship to the surface and back to orbit will require about half a dozen Starship launch, each about 100-150 tons IMLEO each. A single one of these missions is about the same launch capacity as all successful Apollo lunar surface missions combined. Which makes sense when you see lunar Starship side by side with the Apollo LM: https://www.reddit.com/r/SpaceXLounge/comments/mslpce/starsh...
It finally feels like we’re where we ought to be in the 21st Century with respect to Spaceflight.
Or did you mean something else?
This will still be a NASA mission, with NASA astronauts with their standard US military ranks, et c.
Certain private sector industries wish to join this club. Green energy has the makings of it. Education is obviously one of them. You get the picture.
People often talk as though all the money was spent on high tech weapons and vehicles, but if you're going to have people, they have to make a living. Even if they just all sat at desks.
Although they do spend a tidy sum on hardware too, of course!
I feel bad for the Dynetics lander though, I thought that was a really interesting design but relied on expendable launchers.
SpaceX is designing a multi-purpose architecture in which the lunar lander is just a variant of a craft intended for other commercial purposes (Starlink launches, commercial launch customers, space tourism, etc), so it can share development costs between the lunar lander and its own commercial investment – the other bidders were proposing bespoke vehicles with little potential for other commercial uses.
SpaceX is also a young company with a high-risk strategy of betting the company on massive growth in the space industry–which is another reason why it is more willing to invest its own money (or its private investors money) than trying to get the taxpayers to carry 100% of development costs. Its competitors are mostly older companies with a far more conservative, financially risk-adverse strategy. (Blue Origin is in a kind of odd position, of being not much older than SpaceX, yet seemingly having a culture more in common with those old conservative firms.)
I don't think it would be a first, since previous contracts (such as COTS and Commercial Crew) were both awarded as fixed price contracts.
To my knowledge, SpaceX didn't go back and ask for more money beyond the fixed-price contract. So both of those were already delivered (or are being delivered actively) on budget.
But, this award is following in those footsteps to use fixed-price contracts as a way to control costs and ensure the programs don't run wildly overbudget.
1. Ambitious space programs require solving unknown unknowns. You can't accurately budget for that.
2. Well, yes, you can budget for that by adding a large fudge factor to the cost of your program.
3. Which will mean that your program will not get funded.
NASA generally does a good job of being in the ballpark of its budget for its ambitious goals. Which, ever since Apollo, have been its unmanned programs.
The manned space shuttle, and the ISS, as well as all the hoop-a-la around getting people to the ISS are on the other hand not particularly ambitious, and are also a bottomless money pit (Ballpark cost of ISS was ~160 billion dollars. The ballpark cost of a rover mission to Mars is less than 3 billion dollars.)
While this was at one time true, I don't think it's fair to say anymore, given that the Commercial Crew contracts issued were fixed price contracts, and have been delivered by SpaceX on that fixed price contract.
2. Fifty years after the last Apollo flight, and twenty years into ISS flights, the costs of the flights have finally been brought under control. That's not exactly a shining medal for NASA's manned space program. I will say again - it's a bottomless money pit.
However, notwithstanding these aforementioned positive attributes, I find that Dynetics’ technical approach suffered from a number of serious drawbacks, and I concur with the SEP’s conclusion that these drawbacks meaningfully increase the risk to Dynetics’ successful performance of this contract. Of particular concern is the significant weakness within Dynetics’ proposal under Technical Area of Focus 1, Technical Design Concept, due to the SEP’s finding that Dynetics’ current mass estimate for its DAE far exceeds its current mass allocation; plainly stated, Dynetics’ proposal evidences a substantial negative mass allocation.
I expect Congress expected them to do the same thing here, but then SpaceX forced the issue by coming in under the skimpy budget Congress gave. This forced NASA's hand, giving them almost no choice but to award the contract to SpaceX.
Congress will be furious, both because they didn't award two contracts and because their golf course buddies didn't get the contract. But NASA played the hand that was dealt.
It’s not nice the military get all the funding for their stupid toys.
NASA also identified significant risk because the LM Orion derived assent module would be far behind in development compared to the rest of the architecture.
The problem BO has is that they don't have the credibility to build a human capsule that can launch from the moon. But working with LM means they are gone do nothing more then the minimum and they want to be paid without risk for them.
> SpaceX beat out Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which had formed what it called a “national team” by partnering with aerospace giants Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper
> both very highly rated from a technical and management perspective and that also had, by a wide margin, the lowest initially-proposed price.
BO didn't rate as high and was more expensive.
I think he would rather spend that money on BO to develop whatever he wants to develop next.
I don't think you want to be a commercial costumer of LM and NG, that doesn't sound fun.
I worry more about spaceX's ability to land starship on the moon. Not because they won't get it right eventually in texas, but the moon isn't smooth. I know they will have a plan to deal with that, but getting a few ton lander with 4 legs to not tip over and handle tilted land is vastly easier than a long and spindly and heavy starship - how will they handle that?
I'm sure they will land it on the moon multiple times before they put any people on it. (And the other choices like National Team or Dynetics would have done the same.)
What's amazing is that Apollo 11 landed on the Moon with humans on it the first time. And the Space Shuttle had astronauts on-board its maiden flight. People took risks with human spaceflight back then that they don't any more. Computers are so much more advanced now, you don't need astronauts to fly things. Even the Space Shuttle, technically could have been fully automated, but NASA had a culture of wanting to put a human in control. And a few deadly disasters have changed the attitude around risking astronauts’ lives to become more risk-averse.
There were actually theories that Moon might be covered in fine dust heavy landers might just sink in, so one of the objectives was testing that out. And thankfully the theory turned out to be incorrect. :)
In no small part due to Neil Armstrong's ability to act under pressure.
It was only after the Columbia disaster that they actually enhanced the Shuttle to enable it to be fully autonomous and perform landing and re-entry without a crew. If the Shuttle was damaged and re-entry was too risky, then the crew would shelter in the ISS and the Shuttle would attempt to re-enter and land without the crew onboard – best case scenario, the Shuttle lands intact; worse case, it breaks up on re-entry while the crew remain safely behind on the ISS. They never had to use this autonomous re-entry/landing capability, however.
That's not true. They implemented "Remote Control Orbiter" (RCO) capability which was based on a special "In-Flight Maintenance (IFM) cable". See this NASA presentation for some details: https://ntrs.nasa.gov/api/citations/20070019347/downloads/20...
The plan to intentionally trigger the orbiter to break-up on re-entry was really only for STS-114 – that was the first post-Columbia mission, but RCO and IFM cable weren't available yet. From the next mission, STS-121 onwards, the IFM cable was stored on-board the ISS, so the plan was to use RCO to re-enter and land under remote control. (I'm not sure what the plan was for STS-125, which I believe is the only post-Columbia non-ISS mission – they couldn't use the IFM on the ISS since it wasn't reachable from their orbit; I don't know if NASA had a second IFM cable to use for it.)
That said, it's a very secretive firm with an unknown amount of progress.
I'll believe in Blue Origin when I see it.
The second or third or tenth company to develop reliable reusable rockets will get plenty of business in the coming decades.
I have a lot of faith in SpaceX and not a whole lot in Blue Origin but that’s also because I don’t know anything about them. Their success doesn’t depend upon my faith in any case.
If you look at it in terms of capabilities, SpaceX checks all the boxes; reusable rockets, rapid turnaround, lowest cost. Once Starship is usable for payloads, no other launch provider will be able to compete.
I think a different comparison is more apt here -- slow racers lose to fast ones.
I love that SpaceX is so open, but I'm not sure what material 'help' that actually gives them. I mean, I doubt NASA gives Spacex special consideration because they're popular.
I'm sure the popularity is also helping with demand for starling.
Even the subhead betrays how weird this journalistic formulation is: "The company beat out Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics, a defense contractor". Like, ok, who is the CEO of Dynetics? Is it just some "public person" standard - because readers will say "Oh, that guy!"? Or is it because they're the majority shareholders in their respective companies and they do this for any company with a singular majority stake?
Just seems like a weird tic to me.
The average person knows who Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos are, because they are two of the richest men in the world–and Musk is prone to saying controversial things too, which helps stick him in people's minds. They might not remember who SpaceX are (even if they heard about Crew Dragon, they might just think that's NASA). They very likely have no idea who Blue Origin are.
Musk and Bezos are household names, even among the hoi polloi. The average person has never heard of Patrick Gelsinger, or of David A. King (CEO of Dynetics)
Jeff Bezo and Elon Musk are very well known public figures.
He is more well known for Tesla.
"NASA, in a statement provided to SpaceNews April 14, said it has yet to formally authorize SpaceX to proceed on the Gateway Logistics Services contract because the agency is studying the overall schedule of the Artemis lunar exploration program, of which development and use of the Gateway is just one part.
“An agency internal Artemis review team is currently assessing the timing of various Artemis capabilities, including Gateway. The goal of this internal review is to evaluate the current Artemis program budget and timeline, and develop high-level plans that include content, schedule, and budgets for the program,” the agency stated.", from 
Now this is pure speculation but they are not maybe working towards doing away with the Gateway and going directly to the moon instead?
What might get cancelled however, is Dragon XL. I'm sure SpaceX is going to ask to change the contract to replace Dragon XL + Falcon Heavy with cargo Starship. Now that NASA is relying on Starship for HLS, it is going to be hard for them to say "no" to Starship for Gateway cargo as well.
You don't assume the humanity doesn't need a Moon orbiting outpost, do you? Insisting that all materials and devices have to go to Moon or Earth with no intermediate point sounds, shall I say, interesting.
Gateway should have at least 125m³ from what I saw on its Wikipedia page.
However, to completely avoid having a Moon orbiting facility would be to err to the other direction. Suppose, for example, you have an emergency on the Moon. If you need to fly to Earth, it's easier to meet an Earth-bound ship in the Moon orbit than to have that ship landed on Moon; reminding, SpaceX lunar ship isn't intended to fly to Earth, with good reasons. Or if you need an urgent delivery of something unique from the Earth, it's easier to deliver to the Moon orbiting outpost, rather than to have it with Moon landing capabilities. If you need delivery of materials from the Moon, a convenient place is to accumulate them in orbit; Earth's history of sea shipments suggests that. Of course there could be other reasons.
Size of Starship doesn't really matter - Gateway could be smaller, and still quite useful.
You can make a good argument for having a station in low lunar orbit, but NRHO is really silly. It was only chosen because it's all the Senate boondoggle SLS could reach.
Edit: NRHO is only close to the moon once every 7 days, versus a low lunar orbit which orbits the moon in 2 hours.
Apollo did quite well without an intermediate point.
Not particularly relevant. At the JFK planning moment, there were no plans, and hardly means, to fly to the Moon to stay. Different from what we have now. Today, "just" repeating "the small step" would be quite anticlimactic.
SpaceX will have a huge leg up on the competition for the next competition, but if the Senate ponies up with more cash we might get two companies selected for the next contract like was desired for this one.
Put $1000 in each of them - if dogecoin price goes to the moon it could partially fund future lunar exploration missions.
Unlike most people commenting in this thread, I’ve actually applied for (and won) NASA contracts.
He could have had same-day notice, but that’s it.
Starship doesn't fit the original mission very well, so I wonder if this could be the start of a pretty big (and in my opinion necessary) overhaul for Artemis. I can't find the document, but I know NASA was pretty set on preferably a 3 but possibly a 2 stage lander and weren't sold on Starships reusability and using the same vehicle for cargo and human missions.
Starship is far more capable than anything else out or even anything on a drawing board, and NASA accepting it for human flights to the Moon signals a lot of confidence in SpaceX and Starship. Hopefully, NASA uses it to its fullest potential.
-  https://spacenews.com/nasa-selects-three-companies-for-human...
That's good PR, mentioning that Bezos owns WP when it is completely irrelevant, in order to foster a feeling of openness and honesty, while the real bomb in that sentence is that spaceX beat the team of the dinosaurs (Northrop, Lockheed)
I don't know how I feel about any of this
It is standard practice, when a newspaper reports on its owner, for it to point out the fact of ownership. It is considered good journalistic ethics. It is reminding the readers of the possibility that their reporting on their owner might be prone to bias, even if there is no sign of bias in any particular case.
Here in Australia, every time The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney's broadsheet) or The Age (Melbourne's broadsheet) mentions Nine Entertainment (the Australian TV network, and more recently owner of those newspapers), they add a parenthetical aside ("the owner of this masthead"). Different publications, different country, same principle.
Many years ago when the SF Chronicle had an ombudsman, I asked about this, and was told "it's just not done."
Blue Origin isn't really a serious contender, and has very few actual flights under their belt. I have no idea, but I'd think the other two companies probably were mostly a "consultancy" role to provide clout behind BO.
It's pretty perplexing BO would take point on such a major undertaking given their vast lack of experience.
Having infrastructure in orbit for say, refueling, reduces potential costs for certain space activities significantly and nobody else really has a good story for lifting the mass needed to build that stuff. Heck, spent Starships might even make decent core components for some of these facilities. Why deorbit them and shipbreak them after their serviceable lifespan when they could be kept up in orbit and comfortably house a dozen humans?
With regards to using Starships as infrastructure, I actually saw a pretty cool idea, where you attach either two Starships together (or many to some other central structure) via cable/structure and use thrust to spin up around the center of mass, creating artificial gravity through centripetal force. The linked YouTube video talks about going to Mars/etc with this, but no reason it couldn't be a space station in orbit around earth.
"Blue Origin's Total Evaluated Price was significantly higher than [SpaceX's], followed by Dynetics' Total Evaluated Price, which was significantly higher than Blue Origin's."
I seriously disagree. I think Bezos is on a different trajectory than SpaceX and isn’t as concerned with quick iterations. He gets a lot of hate from Elon fanboys but I think he knows exactly what he’s doing and can afford to play the long game.
Blue Origin is just a company that's burning money in Bezo's pocket.
Bezos was actually concerned about quick iteration. They had a smaller rocket planned but because of SpaceX success they wanted to 1-up SpaceX and build an even bigger rocket. So they wet with the New Glenn design that is now public. That of course went away from their 'step by step' approach but Bezos wanted to 1-up Musk.
However they announced it and 2 years later realized that they were hopelessly behind schedule so they waited until the last possible second to move it back by 3 years.
The problem is of course that SpaceX already has a bigger rocket, Falcon Heavy. SpaceX next generation rocket is making far faster progress then New Glenn and is far more capable.
New Glenn will be incredibly expensive and if they don't land it on the first try, they are gone have serious issues because they can't build these rockets very fast. Even if they manage to hit their launch date, their flight rate will be incredibly low for years.
At this point, no matter what kind of money Blue has, they can not match SpaceX in team and ability to invest in future technology. Elon started with less 100M and built a 74 billion market cap company out of it that is dominating space industry and is only increasing it dominance over time. They dominate the launch market, the are running away with sat internet, they have every possible NASA service contract, they have been selected as a military launch provider and they are even starting to make inroads into building military sats.
At the same time Bezos has thrown 5-10 billion $ into a company that is worth very little and has no clear path to actually making money anytime soon. In fact, its hard to see how they would ever make that money back.
If you want to make the argument that in 10 years BO is some juggernaut, I would seriously want an explanation on how they are gone do it.
Edit: There is this: https://blogs.nasa.gov/artemis/2020/10/28/lunar-living-nasas.... I wonder whether NASA will now try to include it on one of the two missions.
NASA didn't ask for such a big ship, and would have accepted a smaller one. But if SpaceX bids a big ship, they can't say "no" to it just because it is bigger than they thought they needed.
For the first few landings they probably won't even use most of the capacity. But I'm sure NASA will get to work coming up with ideas of things to do with it.
One option is to have a much bigger crew.
Another option is cargo such as lunar rovers, lunar base modules, ISRU demonstrators, etc. (I wonder if SpaceX will design a slightly different variant optimised for lunar surface cargo delivery.)
For inbound cargo, they definitely can use it to its full cargo capacity, since the cargo can be launched with it from Earth.
For crew, yes for now the limiting factor is Orion – Orion can only take a crew of four, so that's a maximum number of people you can take onboard, without resorting to multiple flights (infeasible given the cost of the SLS+Orion stack)
However, once Starship is crew-rated for launch and re-entry, the number of possible crew is going to increase – I don't know what the limit is, but at least 10, maybe even 20.
(Orion is initially also a limiting factor for returning cargo. However, they could use a cargo Starship, provided the returning cargo can be transferred to the cargo Starship in lunar orbit. This may happen before crew-rating Starship for launch and re-entry does.)
Elon has mentioned Starship carrying 100 people. NASA however, has fewer than 50 astronauts.
Also, Musk talks now about a 100 person capacity for Crew Starship, it probably will shrink as the design progresses. The same thing happened to Dragon – it went from 7 seats down to 4 – NASA safety requirements had some role in that, but the same thing might have happened even without NASA.
I think the crew capacity will also depend on the length of the trip. A trip to Mars needs a lot more supplies than a trip to the Moon, and the more supplies you need to take with you, the fewer people you can fit on the ship. This is not supplies for the destination, it is supplies for the journey – a 6 month journey requires 6 months worth of supplies; you can always send separate cargo ships to the destination for supplies you need after you get there. (Unless, you could dock with a cargo ship mid-journey and transfer more supplies over – that would be possible in principle, but probably more complexity than it is worth in practice.)
There must be people inside NASA that are over the moon about this. You can now fly a full geology lab to the surface of the moon. You can take a big rover. You can do all sorts of crazy things.
You can just land one of these on the moon and leave it there as a whole moonbase. One Starship is comparable to ISS.
NASA will have so many options, its gone be interesting to see what they and SpaceX come up with for the interior.