With the help of the Artemis-1 programme, NASA will conduct an initial general rehearsal of SLS and Orion, two key vehicles for the entire Artemis programme, and thus for return to the Moon. However, the capsule will deliver astronauts only to the moon orbit, and the moon landing will be entrusted to the Starship of SpaceX. Under the Human Landing System programme, the United States Agency is funding a company, Mask, amounting to $2941394557, to develop a modified version of Starship, which will serve as a landing vehicle.
To make this possible, several tests are needed, first of all, to put Starship into orbit, one of which will be a trial landing on the Moon without astronauts, which is now scheduled for the end of 2024. At the annual meeting of the NASA Luna Analysis Group, held on 23 August, some details about the future of Starship were made available. Other statements and updates were obtained from various domestic rumors of the United States Space Agency that emerged during the various preparatory conferences for Artemis-1.
Meanwhile, in Texas, SpaceX is working hard to prepare its prototypes for the first flight to take place by the end of the year. It was not until August 22 that the workers returned Super Heavy to the launch site to prepare for the first launch of all 33 Raptor 2 engines with which it is equipped. This is a crucial test for launching Starship into space.
Landing without takeoff
Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS manager, reported some news about the SpaceX launch vehicle and plans for the future. One of the main objectives that NASA wants to test with Starship is the ability to land safely on the Moon. However, no re-launch is required in the first demonstration flight, as taking off from the Moon is not a basic requirement.
Watson-Morgan, of course, pointed out that it would be important to test Starship's ability to return astronauts to Orion, but they will do so in the future. For this first test mission, they will use only the "skeleton" Starship, which is equipped only with the components necessary to complete part of the descent to the Moon.
SpaceX has for some time been working with the U.S. Agency to develop boarding systems for other celestial bodies, such as the Moon or Mars. Given the size of Starship, which exceeds 50 metres in height, it will require suitable landing poles so that it does not sink into the ground or overturn.
SpaceX and NASA have yet to determine the exact location to be selected for the first test landing on the Moon. Landing on the Moon is still planned for the southern pole, but it is likely that the 13 regions considered for Artemis-3 will be abandoned. Thus, if Starship has problems, they will be able to avoid compromising one of these important objects.
Another factor that needs to be taken into account is the location of the engines. In fact, the raptors can be so powerful that deep pits are torn out during the landing, making it even more difficult to land. One of the hypotheses considered by SpaceX is to place the engines halfway up the Starship to avoid being too close to the ground.
So far, little detail on future missions
Before reaching the moon orbit, the moonship, as is commonly called the Moon Starship, will have to refuel in Earth orbit. SpaceX plans to launch the tank first, upload it with several Starships, and then use it to refuel the moonship.
During the conference, Watson-Morgan also showed again the images of a lift that astronauts would use to descend to the moon surface in March of this year, and the pressure zone in which astronauts would live would be about 30 metres high, so it was necessary to have a vehicle capable of bringing them down to the surface.
SpaceX had to equip the lift with several duplicate systems so that it could function even if it failed. They also performed tests simulating its use by astronauts when they were wearing suites simulating the size of what they would use in the future.