SpaceX is eligible to propose using its next-generation Starship vehicle to carry NASA robotic science payloads to the lunar surface, the U.S. space agency announced Monday, on missions that could precede future Starship flights with people on-board. SpaceX is one of five companies NASA selected Monday to join a roster of commercial transportation providers to deliver scientific instruments and technology demonstration packages to the moon as soon as 2022.
Standing in front of a shiny full-scale prototype of SpaceX’s Starship vehicle in South Texas, Elon Musk said Saturday night he wants the company’s gigantic next-generation rocket to fly into orbit within six months, a bold schedule that he acknowledged requires “exponential” improvements in design and manufacturing.
In the last few months, teams of SpaceX engineers working on the flat coastal plains of South Texas and in a nondescript industrial yard on Florida’s Space Coast have been building two futuristic-looking stainless steel rockets — or Starships — prototypes for a reusable vehicle the company claims could one day ferry people to Mars.
SpaceX launched its sub-scale Starship “hopper” spacecraft on a brief unpiloted up-and-down test flight at the company’s Boca Chica, Texas, test facility Tuesday, a dramatic demonstration of rocket technology intended to pave the way to a new, more powerful heavy lift booster and, eventually, crew-carrying interplanetary spacecraft.