Reason Behind NASA’s Close Monitoring of SpaceX’s Starship Flight

When the SpaceX Starship rocket completed its journey above Earth last Thursday, NASA closely monitored its progress. NASA has already allocated at least billion to SpaceX for the development of the vehicle that will transport its next set of Moon-bound astronauts to the lunar south pole in the coming years.

In April 2021, SpaceX secured a .89 billion contract from NASA to build the lunar lander for the Artemis III mission, scheduled for no earlier than September 2026. This mission will involve ferrying two humans, including the first woman to walk on the Moon, to the icy lunar south pole for a 6.5-day exploration.

NASA selected the near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) from hundreds of potential orbits for the Artemis program, as it allows for continuous communication between Earth and the Moon. NRHO also helps conserve fuel due to the gravitational interaction between Earth and the Moon.

As astronauts prepare to journey to the lunar south pole aboard Starship, two others will orbit in the Orion capsule along NRHO, completing a lap in about a week. Starship will then need to return to space, rendezvous with Orion for docking, and allow the four Artemis III astronauts to conduct final checks over five days before Orion departs back to Earth.

Before Starship can become a fully operational HLS Starship, SpaceX must conduct additional test flights. One of the remaining tests includes an in-orbit re-light demonstration, where Starship will reignite its engines after coasting to demonstrate its capability for deorbiting or a trans-lunar injection.

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