Competition for CLPS Contract Thickens as SpaceX Prepares Starship for 2022

Competition for CLPS Contract Thickens as SpaceX Prepares Starship for 2022

Currently, SpaceX has a contract with NASA to deliver astronauts and other payloads to the International Space Station and is also one of the few companies that will be carrying humans to the Moon as part of NASA's Man on Moon mission

Fremont, CA: The race for NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contract gets tougher as NASA declares fourteen companies as of now are eligible for the program. According to NASA, the CLPS program is a stepping stone to the Artemis program that looks to make humankind an interplanetary species. SpaceX, one of the five companies eligible to deliver robotic payloads to the lunar surface for NASA, seeks to extend its run as a favorable NASA Contractor. Currently, SpaceX has a contract with NASA to deliver astronauts and other payloads to the International Space Station and is also one of the few companies that will be carrying humans to the Moon as part of NASA's Man on Moon mission.

SpaceX's latest Starship Spacecraft could take flight in as less as three years. The reusable spaceship has been built with the Mars mission as the target. The company looks to lure NASA contracts with its strong duo of spacecraft, Starship and Super Heavy. "We are aiming to be able to drop Starship on the lunar surface in 2022," SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell said. However, the company has not yet been guaranteed a moon mission that year. It continues to remain as one of the fourteen competing companies for NASA's Moon contract.

Shotwell believes that with a payload capacity of 110 tons, it will be difficult for NASA to ignore the Starship as one of the top contenders for the job. The contract is likely to consist of multiple payloads to the lunar surface, containing a variety of space gear for a range of customers. As per plans, through the Artemis program, NASA looks to put two astronauts, including the first woman, on the Moon's surface by 2024 and establish long term human presence on Earth's nearest neighbor by 2028. The commercial spacecraft will be used to land hardware and experiments like NASA's water-ice-mapping Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER), which shall pave the way for astronaut pioneers.

NASA's decision to make use of private vehicles for launch instead of shelling out millions to build a new one is seen as a cost-effective decision by many, allowing NASA to focus and use its resources on research and exploration. SpaceX also considers a range of benefits from this partnership with NASA. According to Shotwell, although the Starship has been built to ferry humans, uncrewed efforts like communication satellite launches, CLPS flights and cargo missions to the Martian surface will help to prove the quality and strength of the spacecraft.

The other four companies considered eligible by NASA include California-based Ceres Robotics and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems Inc., Sierra Nevada Corp. of Colorado, and Washington-based Blue Origin, which will use its Blue Moon lander. Amongst the remaining nine CLPS eligible companies announced in November 2018, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines are scheduled to deliver NASA science gear and a variety of other payloads to the lunar surface in July 2021.

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