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SpaceX wins contract to develop spacecraft to land astronauts on the moon (washingtonpost.com)
658 points by sbuttgereit 6 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 343 comments

This is really huge news. Starship has in about 18 months gone from a Elon standing next to a steel grain silo duct-taped into the shape of a rocket, to all the eggs in NASA's moon basket. The thing I kept thinking - and I have to believe was considered within NASA - is given the rapid progress SpaceX has been making along with the delays in Congressional funding, SLS, BlueOrigin's other projects etc ... if NASA hadn't selected SpaceX there was at least some chance they'd go ahead and do their own private Moon landing mission before NASA's, a massive egg-on-face moment.

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.

> There are still major risks with the Starship program

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.

Many of these risks don't apply to the lunar variant. The lunar variant won't be launching people from earth and won't be returning to earth. No re-entry, no landing flip, etc.

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.

They somewhat apply because the lunar variant still needs to be fueled up in LEO with ~ 6 additional launches , all in relatively quick succession.

This seems unfeasible without rapid reuse actually working.

Why do you think they would need to do those launches in quick succession? If the lunar lander starship is parked in orbit without a crew it can be refuelled over any convenient period of time. Once it's fuelled just send up the crew in a dragon capsule and off you go. The dragon would probably make a good lifeboat if you brought it along for the ride somehow.

This contract is to take astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface. They get from Earth to lunar orbit with SLS/Orion.

Good one, you almost had me until 'SLS'.

As stupid as it is, that is the contract.

That just confirms that they can launch and fuel the starship lander on their own schedule.

Also it does not need to be the same tanker to do the resupply. The plan is to make 2 starships per week. There should be plenty available to continue refuelling missions if one is not available.

They may have solved the LOX boiloff problem, but perhaps not.

Wikipedia[1] cites a 2010 study that gives a boiloff rate of 0.1% per day for hydrolox. Not sure if it would be less for pure LOX. Methane would remain stable so I wonder if there's a way you could balance the fuel load so that you can deliver only methane on some of the trips and then all the LOX in one trip to avoid having it hang around in orbit.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Propellant_depot#Feasibility_o...

Oxygen is the vast majority of the propellant mass, I'm afraid. Methalox is CH4+2O2->CO2+2H2O, so you need 4 Oxygen atoms for every Carbon atom (with Hydrogen being a rounding error).

Even if they need to refuel quickly, why not launch 6 starships for that mission? They’re planning to build lots of them aren’t they?

As long as the crewed starship is fuelled in orbit not too long after the last tanker ship launched, then the amount of boiloff will be negligible.

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.

Dragon is 4.4 meters (14.4 feet) tall and 3.66 meters (12 feet) in diameter. Starship fairing payload envelope is 22m tall and 8m in diameter. More than 3 dragons would comfortably fit inside.

I think the idea is that the fueled-up Starship in LEO would have already have most the payload inside since it launched. The only thing it would be lacking is the astronauts, so they can come in a much smaller vehicle.

That said, this contract has astronauts boarding Starship in lunar orbit, not Earth orbit.

In my opinion the way to think about SuperHeavy+Starship is a scaled up stainless steel Falcon 9. Currently Falcon 9's first stage booster (usually) lands and is quickly/cheaply refurbished/reused, while the second stage is completely thrown away except for partially successful attempts at fairing recovery. They've used this partially reusable system to do a large number of launches quite cost effectively.

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.

Fairing recovery has been abandoned.

Fairing recovery is not abandoned, they decided to fish them out of the water after a soft landing instead of catching them with a net.

Ah yes, right you are, it is the catching that they have abandoned. Thank you for the correction.

True enough, they can't be throwing away tankers for each refuel.

At the price NASA is willing to pay, they can. The tankers are only a few million dollars in raw materials.

Re-entry is required for the ship that will refuel the lunar lander. So yes the re-entry portion is required for the system to work.

> 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.

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.

Well, they’ve got their two oil rigs, Phobos and Deimos, which I believe are to be the launch/catch facilities, so that’s two for starters. I don’t know if they’ll be doing it on land at all, or if the intent is to launch from one and catch with the other, allowing more downrange capability. We’ll see - it’s a blast (boom boom (boom boom!)) watching their development process.

SpaceX is asking the EPA for permission to build a second orbital pad and tower in Boca Chica, and I'd assume that we might hear something soon about the mothballed 39A Starship launch mount

> Starship will require in-orbit refueling to go to the moon, so (rapid) reusability is somewhat of a hard requirement.

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.

If they have to expend them, I doubt SpaceX would have any profit at all and they'd reneg on the contract.

Second stage tanker build costs are estimated at around $30M. Expending a dozen would thus cost $360M, about 15% of the contract. I highly doubt that SpaceX set their profit margin lower than 15%.

Thry need to spend the R&D money anyway to get it working, why not let NASA subsidise it

I'm getting very nervous about manned propulsive landings. I know it's been done before, e.g. the LEM, but that at least had an abort option available and the flip manoeuvre seems to introduce a lot of unpredictability into the process. I wouldn't be surprised if they take up a Crew Dragon with them in a cargo bay to bring the crew back down separately for the first manned flights, until they've demonstrated a strong track record of successful propulsive landings.

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.

> I'm getting very nervous about manned propulsive landings.

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.

If a LEM landing became untenable they could abort to Lunar orbit by launching the crew capsule. You know how after landing on the moon the way they got back to Lunar orbit was by launching the crew capsule, using the lower stage of the LEM as a launch platform? They could actually do that in flight. You're right of course though, I forgot that for Artemis they wont be landing people on Earth in Starship.

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.

I didn't know they could actually do the accent in flight. Do you have a source about that? Apollo is seriously insane, they thought of everything and pulled it off.

Check out the Apollo 10 mission; they in fact did that as a rehearsal for the landing.

>100 tons to the Lunar surface

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 agree, Crew Dragon (and maybe Orion and Boeing Starliner) are going to be the people-carriers of choice for Earth launch and re-entry for at least the next decade.

I think people are really vastly underestimating how fast things are moving. I think you're completely wrong and Crew Dragon will be relegated to only fulling a remaining portion of a NASA contract after less than 5 years. Everyone else (private astronauts) will fly on Starship.

Yeah, I really can't help but wonder if SpaceX is going to go after the long distance travel market. Starship can do suborbital hops without Superheavy.

Only comparatively short ones, with limited payload. Getting to a ballistic trajectory from one side of the planet to the other takes almost as much dV as going to orbit.

A decade is a very long time. A decade ago, SpaceX only had 4 successful launches.

I don't really have concerns about launching people on Starship, it's the landing process that gives me the willies.

If it was simply a matter of money, SpaceX could raise $15B in an IPO in a heartbeat given the incredible retail demand.

I'm glad that Elon is remaining "conservative" in his financing of SpaceX to avoid the quartly Wall Street song & dance.

Last I heard, SpaceX will IPO once there are regular trips to Mars with Starship. Looking forward to it to say the least.

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.”


I'm not down voting but I think there's a pretty big delta between "can't go IPO before X" and "will IPO once X"

In my head those mean the exact same thing, so I'm not sure why you say there's such a big delta. The only difference is the connotation.

To me they are pretty different.

"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).

You are probably being downvoted because you seem to be saying you are looking forward to SpaceX's IPO, while trips to Mars are just the mechanism.

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.

Oh? I didnt mean to do that.

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.

I believe Musk has mentioned that Starlink will IPO in order to fund SpaceX.

Next week he will probably announce that he’s already funded it via Dogecoin speculation.

Elon could also keep it private and fund it himself "in a heartbeat" by selling a small portion of his Tesla stock.

Will SpaceX be as generous with its IP as NASA was in the 1960s and 1970s? The original moon landing yielded huge technological advances, many of which made their way into commercial applications. Tesla may instead hoard these advances to increase the networth of Elon Musk.

Yes, in fact, because it was part of the contract stipulation by NASA. And apparently Blue Origin/National Team's proposal scored poorly in part because they wanted to keep some of the data rights from NASA.

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.

You can possible expect them to do the same as with Tesla


Well SpaceX doesn't patent stuff because patents have to be public and rocket technology can't be public.

some patents are actually classified: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invention_Secrecy_Act

why patent such things at all if they're classified? probably to keep other defense contractors from using your technology to compete on bids.

This is what I worry about with privatization of space technology in general; a free market with competition can in some ways be more efficient than a government agency, but then again if all the parties are incentivized to hoard their technology then you could end up with a lot of duplicate work and wonky suboptimal designs to work around patents.

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.

There are very general Space Act agreements that try to make dissemination of information as wide as possible, but there is plenty of wiggle room for proprietary information.


The JFK quote still gives me (good) chills!

> The original Artemis plan never made much sense as a Mars "proof-of-concept", but it actually does now.

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.

Huh. I always just assumed they were copying the Andy Weir book of the same name. Guess I am going to have to add Greek mythology to the todo.

You thought NASA named a program after a random sci-fi book and not for a Greek god like the Apollo program?

To be fair, a lot of science is named after and even inspired from sci-fi works. The Alcubierre drive comes to mind, which was inspired by Star Trek.

But yeah, Andy Weir is far from a classic in that regard.

Artemis the goddess was associated with the moon.

Given the risks and delays with SLS, I’d say it’s pretty likely that SpaceX can outlift/out launch NASA to the moon and probably still will.

Going to be interesting

And it's winter for Gateway and SLS

A Lunar Gateway still sort-of-makes-sense, as an outpost near the moon, using ISS-derived hardware, makes it hard for Congress to argue cancelling something that is (a) new and (b) we know will work.

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.

I don't think these stations really do make sense from an exploration perspective. If you are not saving much delta v then what is the point?

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?

why is going to mars even remotely high on the list of humanities priorities? it seems like people think its cool and then try to have their cake and eat it to by claiming its somehow important. im pretty sure for at least a very long time its just cool.

There could be substantial benefits in the long term, if we can get a self-sufficient colony going. In the short term, it's mostly working out the technology and being able to learn more about planetary science by studying something up close that isn't the Earth.

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.

as someone who occasionally needs a wheelchair, I'd miss my friends if I got shipped off to Mars! I'm also pretty sure that the gees wouldn't be good for my condition. there's also the small matter of radiation exposure, since Mars doesn't have much of an ionosphere.

I'm waiting on powered exoskeletons as my sci-fi mobility aid of choice.

Yeah, shipping off to Mars would be a hard sell for most people in that situation. I find it easier to imagine older couples or groups of friends who are all facing similar mobility issues going together rather than a solitary person going by themselves and leaving everyone they know behind. It would also be a long, rough trip. Which implies that maybe having a senior center on the moon or even in a rotating space station orbiting the Earth is a more attractive option.

I would prefer fixing our own planet before.

We absolutely should be doing a lot more about climate change, but this is something we can do in parallel. (There is some climate cost to rocket launches, but compared to our total economy it's very small.)

We will fix on our own planet faster and better by also learning how to go beyond it. The lessons we learn and the technology we develop by doing so will help those on Earth. For this reason, it makes sense to allocate a small percentage of our resources each year towards these efforts.

Based on the history of humanity, is there evidence we can fix our planet?

Following this logic, let's assume we can't. Then what are the chances we can plant a self-sufficient colony on a barren lifeless planet, all from a dying civilization on our still infinitely more hospitable homeworld?

Depends on whether the explorers self select for survival traits.

How can one be so deeply pessimistic about survival on a planet whose atmosphere we can safely breath and whose climate will likely be more amenable to us than Mars' even in a worst-case global heating scenario, and yet remain optimistic about an independently viable Mars colony?

You mean like self selecting billionaires?

Honestly, I think it’s not important, but the capabilities doing it will build are better than the ones we would get by spending the money elsewhere.

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.

There is plenty of precedent for awarding contracts that get nixed due to changes in political winds before producing results though.

It would create a ton of jobs. We would learn a lot. The world is awash in cash. This doesn't seem like a terrible use of it.

Meteor impacts, caldera collapses, nuclear war. Every single one of these things could happen tomorrow, and we'd never see it coming. If we want any chance if humanity to survive, we need to get people onto other planets.

Earth after a meteor impact and a nuclear war happening at the same time would still be 100x more livable than anything we can do on Mars. Saving humanity by going to Mars is like saving yourself from the titanic by jumping into the ice-cold water.

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!

Anything - including flight to and colonization off Mars - that moves humans closer to building mega scale space habitats is an important step forward. Thats where the road to immortality ultimately leads for humans as a species.

And possibly for individuals as well, given the potentially almost limitless resources available in Space.

One thing I've seen becoming a spacefaring civilization explained as is a "coming out of the cave" of sorts, which doesn't line up perfectly but it's not far off. The species' possibility space will be severely restricted so long as offplanet infrastructure is limited.

We can’t even not fck up our very own and livable planet, it’s just naive to think of colonization. We will kill ourselves much much earlier than that.

Nah, your imagination of the horrors that nature can (and did) unleash upon the Earth is pretty limited. A Theia impact would make Earth far less livable than Mars. Would sterilize the planet.

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'm happy to see people go to Mars for other reasons, but this one's (commonly-cited) BS. The odds of something happening that rendered Earth worse to live on than Mars but didn't also toast mars is incredibly small. Mars is really bad. Most plausible post-apocalypse Earths are way, way better. Yet I don't see anyone clambering to build apocalypse-survival shelters and pay people to live in them part-time, which is something we could do right now that's more effective than a Martian colony, and much cheaper.

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.

> The odds of something happening that rendered Earth worse to live on than Mars but didn't also toast mars is incredibly small

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.

> 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?

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.

Like football. It is used for state propaganda, to make populations dream and look forward to the same direction.

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.

If I could pick, I'd pick planetary health, and improving human health and lifespan as my two top priorities. It's probably still good to not be too myopic and have researchers and companies working on ancillary topics they're interested in. Not only because you can't make people focus on things they aren't interested in, but because you probably can't make more progress faster just by having every single resource allocated in the same place, and you could get benefits that weren't anticipated.

It's not anywhere near remotely high on humanity priorities.

It's somewhere around lipstick market worth of ~10B dollar per year.

My biggest worry is whether SpaceX can keep up its momentum without Musk driving it. It's not unreasonable to think he could behave badly enough to end up in jail or removed from a leadership position.

SpaceX is not a public company and he has a majority stake and controls 78% of the voting rights. He can even still manage it from jail, if he wants.

Almost every prison facility prohibits inmates from managing a business from inside. Even if he was allowed to, he couldn't be the kind of energizing and driving force he is now.

Worked for the mafia.

“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“

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?”

The biggest news IMO is that there's only a single winner. There was a lot of pressure to make Commercial Crew a sole contact to Boeing, and it now appears that Boeing is going to deliver Starliner two years later than SpaceX delivered Crew Dragon. So going with two winners saved NASA's bacon. It's surprising to see them only choose a single winner here. Yes SpaceX may be considered a safe bet, but ten years ago it was Boeing who was considered the safe bet. Things change over years.

It's risky to select just a single winner, but I can't help but think this is the appropriate response to Boeing's pressure. It sends a clear message that the typical "old space" tactics will no longer be tolerated and that if these companies want to remain in the game, it will need to be by way of their competitive merit.

Boeing wasn't part of this competition. They didn't make the top three in the first selection round.

Boeing's bid was eliminated in the first selection round because it failed to properly address NASA's stated requirements. Maybe that's the arrogance of thinking you don't need to offer what the customer is asking for, you know what's good for them better than they do?

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.

Is it actually a criminal investigation? Surely this is a civil matter with no chance of jail time right?

Yes it is a criminal investigation: https://www.theverge.com/2020/8/14/21369377/nasa-doug-loverr...

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.

In fact, Gerstenmaier was kicked out of NASA because he tried to slide inside information to Boeing to try and make their bid more competitive. Ironically enough, he now works for SpaceX.

That was Doug loverro, not Gerst! Gerst was fired because sls was going too slowly

To add to this point, I think we’re seeing a clear recognition that space travel and infrastructure is shifting out of the Defense sector and into the private sector.

Only because of Elon and team, and a huge brick of money that NASA gave them.

Yes, but it needs to be said that the "huge brick of money" was half of what NASA gave Boeing (which is itself just a tiny proportion of Boeing's profit). And look where we are.

Yes, a big bet by NASA that has paid off beyond just about anyone’s imagination.

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.

Those huge bricks of money aren't going anywhere. SpaceX (or anyone else) aren't flying missions for the government for free!

Which doesn't seem as large, when you calculate it out in number of shuttle launches you could do with that cash.

Or compare it to how much has been spent on SLS, which has yet to net any return aside from keeping people employed (which probably could've been accomplished on a much smaller budget).

NASA's budget hasn't increased though. So everything that's changed dramatically is because of knock-on effects of SpaceX's activities and the private funding it has.

I think for at least a generation or two, most of the defense sector is the private sector, no?

Or did you mean something else?

This will still be a NASA mission, with NASA astronauts with their standard US military ranks, et c.

Defense is not the private sector. It is a sanctified institution politically where we must always fund it, similar to social security and Medicare. It’s a blank check we write every year, no questions asked.

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.

I believe 40-50% of the defense budget is simply the salaries and benefits of the people who are in the military.

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.

Agreed. Having spent some time in the UK equivalent, what they do primarily is training, not hardware procurement.

Although they do spend a tidy sum on hardware too, of course!

Military personnel + operations and maintenance, not including procurement, is more like 65% of the US budget.

The basic ability to get people to and from the ISS was a critical capability, so it was sensible to want redundant options as long as it was affordable. The moon is IMHO more of a nice to have. If this option doesn't pan out fine, try something else.

I feel bad for the Dynetics lander though, I thought that was a really interesting design but relied on expendable launchers.

I was also a big fan of Dynetics. It sounds like they primarily lost out due to cost -- SpaceX was the only proposal that could fit within the budget Congress gave NASA.


I wonder if for the first time in history one of these space programs can deliver on the original budget? That would be a serious coup for SpaceX.

I think part of why it is going to fit in its budget is because SpaceX is willing to fund some of the development costs out of its own pockets, to an extent that other bidders were not.

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 wonder if for the first time in history one of these space programs can deliver on the original budget?

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.

SpaceX already did that with commercial crew. The program is set up as a fixed-price contract. SpaceX missed on the dates, but is delivering the services that were promised inside the original budget.

Focusing on the budget is doing the wrong thing.

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.)

> hoop-a-la around getting people to the ISS are on the other hand not particularly ambitious, and are also a bottomless money pit

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.

1. The cost of the flight is a small part of the overall cost of getting an astronaut to the ISS, which itself is a small part of the overall cost of keeping him alive there.

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.

Dynetics submitted the highest bid, but it looks like their bid couldn't have one at any price.

  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.

This is probably largely due to NASA's Congress-specified HLS budget not being enough to support two companies.

The reason is that NASA doesn't even have the budget to afford a single winner, and SpaceX agreed to update its payment schedule to make the contract work.

That normally isn't a show stopper. For example on commercial crew, Congress asked NASA to do Commercial Crew but didn't give them enough money to do it. Being forced to make an impossible choice, NASA awarded the contract, and the schedule shifted right until the money was available.

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.

This is also a good way for NASA to tell Congress that, if they want business as usual, it’ll have to be budget as usual.

It’s not nice the military get all the funding for their stupid toys.

Which is... slightly baffling. Blue Origin doesn't have much of a track record actually getting stuff into orbit, but with Bezos's backing, you'd think the one thing they would have is flexibility on the payment schedule...

Bezos made a bet that if he assembled an unholy conglomeration of defense contractors with dozens of senators on their payroll and named it "The National Team", NASA couldn't dare not give it to him. That limited Blue's flexibility, and they lost.

I just finished reading the selection statement. And the National Team demanded significant upfront payments.

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.

BO is sort of an opaque entity to me and I had not heard about the conglomeration of defense contractors. Do you have any links to resources that can tell me more about that?

From the article,

> 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

Quite frankly, their proposal was horrendous.

Reading the Source selection document (1), NASA only negotiated with SpaceX because the company was:

> 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.

(1) https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/option-...

BO might have that, but the other companies, LM and NG didn't. Even for Bezos its a tall order to spend billions for the LM and NG systems.

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.

He'd have to sell a lot of Amazon stock to try and make that work. Who knows what that would raise once he starts selling.

Ten years ago Boeing was already riding a string of mismanaged and failed contracts. They can't accomplish anything dependably since the MD merger.

I am also surprised, and somewhat heartened by this decision. They are basically saying they are committed to going to the moon... they aren’t going to “give it up”. However, they are implicitly saying it is not going to be a place they are going to spend a ton of cash. This is no longer a job shop, but instead a steps to making real progress.

Although there must be almost completely different training between the Boeing capsule and the spacex one, ultimately they had a good sync point to connection to the space station's "international format docking port". An arbitrary astronaut could ride in either, or at least without that much trouble. But LEO to the moon is going to be so different, and the landers were different. I'm sure there'd be no 'standard controller" so you could put lander from company A with transport to company B.

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 worry more about spaceX's ability to land starship on the moon.

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.

Yes, Apollo 11 had humans on the first actual landing but they previous Apollo missions included "dress rehearsal" flights that did almost everything but touch down. It was not just launch and land the first time with people. Incremental steps along the way. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apollo_10

And not only Apollo flights, but a couple unmanned probes that did landings.

Yep, Surveyors were certainly a good test: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Surveyor_program

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. :)

Apollo had a pretty strict deadline to minimize the chance USSR would accomplish the goal first. NASA accepted the additional risk of foregoing more unmanned tests after the launch vehicle flew successfully. And the Saturn V was itself tested all-up. The schedule had a much larger weight than than current manned programs.

The live announcement[0] just announced that the SpaceX bid includes an uncrewed test flight.


>What's amazing is that Apollo 11 landed on the Moon with humans on it the first time.

In no small part due to Neil Armstrong's ability to act under pressure.

Somehow I am picturing only 1-3 tests for other competitors. SpaceX can do this because their launch platform is so cheap.

To be fair, the capability for autonomous computing back in those days was far more constrained, especially given launch lift costs and the mass of computing, so you had to have humans

What you say may well be true for Apollo. But for the Space Shuttle, even from the first mission back in 1981, most of the flying was done by the computers. There were only a few steps which had to be done by humans – one of which was flicking the switch to lower the landing gear. NASA could have fully automated it, but they made a decision not to. Part of the reason was a culture which wanted to keep a human in the loop rather than having everything under computer control.

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.

Sorry for not providing a link to the document giving the procedure for automated shuttle contingency operation. IIRC, there was no plan to de-orbit and land the orbiter. The plan was to ease it away from ISS, open the cargo bay doors, execute the de-orbit burn, and orient the vehicle to break up and burn as completely as possible. Of course, the digital autopilot was capable of performing an automated landing. It was always done manually, ostensibly to maintain pilot proficiency and minimize the reaction time should the autopilot misbehave.

> Sorry for not providing a link to the document giving the procedure for automated shuttle contingency operation. IIRC, there was no plan to de-orbit and land the orbiter. The plan was to ease it away from ISS, open the cargo bay doors, execute the de-orbit burn, and orient the vehicle to break up and burn as completely as possible.

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's fair, after all the contemporaneous buran was quite capable of running completely autonomously. (N==1)

And not only that, you could mount a couple turbojet engines on it and fly it like an airplane! :)


It sounds like NASA just didn't have the budget to fund two projects, and were only able to fund SpaceX's proposal because it was so much cheaper than the others.

I have to say, I am completely skeptical of Blue Origin's ability to do anything in a reasonable amount of time and that they will amount of anything but Bezo's hobby. At least until they change their approaches.

That said, it's a very secretive firm with an unknown amount of progress.

I'll believe in Blue Origin when I see it.

They don't seem to have the kind of drive that SpaceX has. And their secretiveness is not causing space fans to be enamored of them. SpaceX by contrast is quite open (with Elon often speculating on Twitter with fans about the cause of a test failure within minutes of it happening). That open approach is definitely delivering public mindshare that seems to be helping them.

I've heard Bezos' approach with Blue Origin compared to the 'tortoise and the hare' allegory. Slow and steady may work when your talented opponent is taking naps along the racetrack, it doesn't work when they are as driven as the SpaceX team.

But it’s not necessarily a race with a winner and a loser.

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.

Will they get plenty of business? I think that's questionable, with the exception of US policy supporting multiple launcher availability for national security reasons. Otherwise, I think that if BO doesn't start demonstrating reusable orbital rockets in the next 2 years, SpaceX will gut them on cost.

BO doesn't have the same publicly stated goals as SpaceX so it seems kind of silly to compare them. AFAIK their primary goal is to enable space tourism with reusable rockets with rapid turnaround. This is much different than SpaceX, who want to jumpstart a Mars colony. Their technological needs are worlds (planets?) apart.

So SpaceX, which is planning on flying a rich artist around the Moon isn't interested in space tourism? And we do know some of BO's goals; they want to have a Starlink like system. That's in direct competition with SpaceX, and SpaceX is far and away the leader in this field.

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 mean Blue Origin doesn't even have a fully reusable rockets on the (publicly known) drawing books. Unless they suddenly pull a surprise and announce that New Glenn second stage will actually land back on the ground, there's no competition really.

Yeah, I'd just say that tortoise and the hare comparison is flat out inapplicable here. In the allegory the hare gives up after an initial burst of energy and is eventually overtaken by the slow and steady tortoise. That is not remotely what is happening with SpaceX -- far from giving up, they're doing the opposite, and becoming even faster and more ambitious over time.

I think a different comparison is more apt here -- slow racers lose to fast ones.

It's more like a tortoise versus a rocket, and frankly, I don't think the tortoise stands a chance at this point.

> seems to be helping them

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.

It's definitely a strong recruiting tool. SpaceX is known to work you harder for less money than other firms, but they can get people who are invested in the vision of the company. Also at this point there's been enough time for a high schooler to be inspired by SpaceX's first rocket booster landing, decided to go to college in a relevant field with the sole purpose of working at SpaceX, graduated, and gotten a job.

I'm sure the popularity is also helping with demand for starling.

Not surprising to hear SpaceX being anti-labor given Tesla. Being worked harder for less money is not what you want to hear as a laborer. Of course, to me, I am neutral on rich whites spending their unusual and overinflated net worths as fodder for a billionaire sociopath, but the implications for everyone at SpaceX makes it clear that their labor stance is racist. Thanks for sharing.

It's not anti-labor per se. It's that working for a company which has that goal, vision, and track record SpaceX does is part of the compensation package.

> racist


SpaceX was investigated for only hiring US citizens and permanent residents for jobs that are legally required to only be filled with US citizens and permanent residents.

The biggest help might be in attracting really talented employees willing to work for affordable wages, and keeping those employees excited enough to keep pushing hard.

Why in the title (not reflected in HN title) is it "Elon Musk's SpaceX" rather than just "SpaceX"? I could imagine the distinction being relevant if he had just taken the helm and this was the company taking some new direction because of it (e.g. "Patrick Gelsinger's Intel"), but it doesn't seem to make a lot of sense given Elon Musk has been the CEO since its founding.

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.

It is trying to make the article meaningful to the average person (which most people here are a fair way off being.)

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)

Because his name is like a magnet for clicks and eyeballs in exactly the way that “Patrick Gelsinger” isn’t

Who's the CEO of Dynetic? I have no idea who they are.

Jeff Bezo and Elon Musk are very well known public figures.

Because Elon has multiple massive companies. The leader of Intel just does Intel.

He is more well known for Tesla.

This [0] is also an interesting piece. SpaceX won a contract for logistics services to the lunar gateway but not much has happened on that front yet. Here is an excerpt from the article:

"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 [0]

Now this is pure speculation but they are not maybe working towards doing away with the Gateway and going directly to the moon instead?

[0] https://spacenews.com/nasa-delays-starting-contract-with-spa...

I doubt they'll cancel Gateway. They have already awarded contracts for its manufacture and launch, and they have international partners (Europe, Japan, Canada) committed to manufacture and launch components as well.

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.

It seems unlikely. The lunar gateway is a cornerpiece of the international collaboration at the moon.

> Now this is pure speculation but they are not maybe working towards doing away with the gateway and going directly to the moon instead?

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.

Spacecraft can dock with other spacecraft, they don't need a station to facilitate that. It's especially nonsensical now that Starship was chosen, since Starship is much larger than Gateway.

Gateway could have coasted out in space for years though, like the the existing space station. starship won't be able to sit there forever. But that's an interesting point in general, will the starship 'habitable space' be bigger than gateway?

Starship is huge, it is supposed to have up to 1000m³ of pressurized volume. That would be 10% more than the ISS currently has.

Gateway should have at least 125m³ from what I saw on its Wikipedia page.

A good Moon base should for sure be bigger than an orbital outpost; unless we have an awful lot of traffic there, on the orbit around the Moon... but we're not there yet.

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.

Gateway will be almost completely useless for this. Gateway is in a very odd orbit, a near rectilinear halo orbit. that NRHO spends most of its time a massive distance from the moon. Most of the time the Earth is closer to the moon than the gateway is.

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.

It’s not about distance, it’s about deltaV necessary to get to it

Distance correlates to time, which matters in an emergency.

Maybe they could use a Starship as an additional module for Gateway or the ISS? Just dock it to one of the ports and leave it there permanently. Maybe even send up a special one with some extra docking ports on it. You could even convert the fuel tanks into extra cabin space (the classic "wet workshop" space station design).

Someone rendered Starships docked to the Gateway and a Twitter user reponded that it looks like the Gateway was a docking adapter between them.


> Insisting that all materials and devices have to go to Moon or Earth with no intermediate point sounds, shall I say, interesting.

Apollo did quite well without an intermediate point.

> 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.

It's obviously time to stop burning all that money on SLS, which costs over $2 billion per flight because it's not reusable. The sunk cost fallacy only hurts more the longer you run with it.

Sure, but sadly that's not up to NASA. Congress insists on forcing them to keep this bloated jobs program in place.

Is this even a problem anymore? I mean, we just threw hundreds of billions behind all sorts of congress-critter pet projects - what's $10 billion (or even $100 billion) for a few moon landing missions?

It's important in the context of NASA's budget, for which $10b is a pretty significant hit which could be going to objectively more useful things.

More news from livestream: this contract covers two landings. A test landing and a single crewed landing. A new competition is opening immediately for subsequent landings.

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.

That seems pretty unlikely. "We did it twice, want to buy a few more landings?" vs "give us a cost plus contract, we haven't done it once, also like commerical crew, give us significantly more than the people that already did it". I'd bet on spacex. Who wouldn't?

Governments often pay more for multi-sourcing things. It’s just safer from an overall risk mitigation scenario.

Everyone thinks Elon was pumping Doge as he keeps saying Doge is going to the moon soon, he was, but this is what he was really talking about the entire time.

I wonder if he will actually put some kind of cryptocurrency mascot aboard a lunar mission as a kind of follow-up to


He should fire an array of hundreds of impact resistant dogecoin cold wallets (maybe privkeys engraved in metal plates then surrounded by a balloon or similar) from lunar orbit to scatter bounties to explore the moon all over the surface.

Put $1000 in each of them - if dogecoin price goes to the moon it could partially fund future lunar exploration missions.

Create maps for future space pirates.

Don't for a second think that Doge to the moon was not literal. This is his whole thing, 'say crazy stuff on twitter', actually do it.

Would be quite trivial if they actually land on the moon. All you need is a USB drive or maybe one of those physical tokens they have for bitcoin.

yes, as soon as I saw the Doge jump after the nasa announcment I thought "that sneaky bastard was telegraphing the nasa contract win this whole time"

He wouldn't have had advance knowledge.

He would have known more than most others...

No, he wouldn’t. It would have been a severe (criminal) breach of government procurement processes.

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.

Considering SpaceX got by far the smallest award for the initial bid [0], it's great to see NASA choosing something new in an industry where entrenchment is so prevalent. It's a big disappointment that we haven't seen more from Blue Origin since the initial bid. Hopefully, the established players will take a step back and understand why SpaceX is completely dominating everything they do in this space.

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.

- [0] https://spacenews.com/nasa-selects-three-companies-for-human...

They are developing a lunar variant so that they can land on the moon.

Yes early Starships for Artemis were planned to be one way and maximize cargo payload to the Moon but that was before SpaceX was accepted for crewed Artemis missions.

"In winning the $2.9 billion contract, SpaceX beat out Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which had formed what it called a “national team” by partnering with aerospace giants Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper. SpaceX also won over Dynetics, a defense contractor based in Huntsville, Ala. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.)"

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

> That's good PR, mentioning that Bezos owns WP when it is completely irrelevant, in order to foster a feeling of openness and honesty

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.

I wish a newspaper reporter, writing about the union to which he or she belongs, had to disclose that relationship.

Many years ago when the SF Chronicle had an ombudsman, I asked about this, and was told "it's just not done."

For what it’s worth, the hosts of NPR’s Planet Money regularly disclose their union memberships when talking about the topic.

The Post includes that disclaimer every time they mention Bezos, or Amazon for that matter. It's policy, not a judgment call about relevance. They don't want to be accused of hiding the relationship.

It is a statement about the dire state of so much of the news media that standard disclosure of potential conflicts of interest is seen as some kind of weird spin.

How serious of an effort did Northrop and Lockheed put in though?

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.

What actual flights? Not the New Shepard? That's a suborbital rocket. They haven't gone to space yet!

I kind of think that they put their name in there just to try to make life hard for SpaceX. Basically throwing in their lot with anybody but Elon.

From a software perspective, I've experienced being in the small startup company that partnered with the huge established government contracting firm to try to win an award. Complete disaster. The culture clash alone was fatal.

That's called transparency, and it's fine that they do that.

My bet is that in the next couple of years we're going to see SpaceX start to move into in-orbit infrastructure: habitats, refueling depots, servicing stations, orbital assembly yards and so on, all the way up to massive mining systems.

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?

Yeah, I think there are a lot of people that are missing how much of a perfect bottleneck launch capacity is. Lots of companies putting the proverbial cart before the horse, saying "I'm not gonna be the space launch company, I'm gonna be the space hotel company" – but that's not necessarily how things are going to play out in space. In fact, we've already seen this happen with "internet satellite constellation companies". Sure, SpaceX could've just sat back and launched OneWeb's sats for them, but instead they built Starlink and they'll probably eat OneWeb's lunch.

With regards to using Starships as infrastructure, I actually saw a pretty cool idea[1], 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.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CRiJTJikjk

Here's the official source selection statement by NASA if anyone wants to read it: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/option-...

I think among all the people commenting here, I'm the only person who doesn't pay for washingtonpost. I'm surprised that the paywal business model works.

Does anybody? I just open it in privacy mode.

It's worth reminding ourselves that space exploration is not high on humanity priorities list.

It's somewhere around lipstick market worth of ~10B dollar per year.

More information:

"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 always thought that if NASA chose another company, by the time they sent astronauts back to the moon they would be greeted by a small group of SpaceX colonists. There really is no competition at this point. Bezos is a joke when it comes to the Space Race in my opinion, he should stick to what he's amazing at like selling groceries and things on Amazon.

> Bezos is a joke when it comes to the Space Race in my opinion, he should stick to what he's amazing at like selling groceries and things on Amazon.

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.

SpaceX is the hare in this story, only it's not stopping to let Boeing catch up.

Blue Origin is just a company that's burning money in Bezo's pocket.

I believe in ten years this comment will be laughable, but as it stands right now we’ll have to agree to disagree.

Funny I remember people telling me this like 6 years ago how BO would soon dominate.

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.

Show me where I said BO would dominate or be a juggernaut. You can’t, because what I said is that it wasn’t a money pit for Bezos and he does have a long term plan that isn’t to compete with SpaceX. As far as I’m aware BO plans are entirely orbital in nature while SpaceX wants to be the work horse of the solar system.

Like those Bitcoin comments?

Irrelevant and whataboutism, the only comment I’m addressing here is BO being a money pit I never said they’d be the dominant rocket company.

Funny how washington post (owned by Bezos) had to share a story about losing a contract to SpaceX.

I have a genuine curiousity (because I can't seem to find it in the news reports). The contract is going to the starship design. What exactly are they planning to take that requires such a large ship? The lunar landers were tiny because the Moon has such a small gravity well. For that payload capacity, I assume you would have most or all of a habitable lunar base.

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.

> What exactly are they planning to take that requires such a large ship?

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.)

They definitely won’t use most of the capacity because they can’t deliver/return even a tiny percentage of it using star liner!

You mean Orion, not Starliner.

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.)

> 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.

Elon has mentioned Starship carrying 100 people. NASA however, has fewer than 50 astronauts.

That's for Crew Starship. The HLS Starship has a different design and may have less crew capacity. 10-20 is just a guess on my part, I don't know what the actual crew capacity is. But I expect SpaceX to trade-off a lower crew capacity for a bigger cargo capacity, since (at least initially) NASA is going to have a much greater need for cargo to the lunar surface than for crew to the lunar surface.

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.)

You’re right, thanks for the starliner/Orion correction!

I think we are all curious about that. NASA didn't plan for this. Its a lucky break that SpaceX 'over-delivered' to an absurd degree.

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.

Starship is big because it's meant to do other things. The mission parameters didn't require it.

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