NASA Awards SpaceX Orbital Refueling Test Contract Worth $53M

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SpaceX was awarded a substantial, $53.2 million contract from NASA on October 14th, 2020.. The aerospace company will be conducting in-orbit refueling tests for its flagship Starship launch vehicle. Once a fully-operational iteration of the Starship is rolled out, SpaceX will focus on conducting full-scale orbital refueling tests. 

The Background Behind SpaceX’s Latest NASA Contract

NASA aspires to implement a long-term presence on the moon under the Artemis program. This is why the agency is investing $370 million on companies in the United States to aid its push to get astronauts back to the Moon. 

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced the selection of “14 U.S. companies across 9 states, including several small businesses”. Bridenstine also stated that the companies will “demonstrate and mature space tech that will help forge a path to sustainable Artemis operations on the Moon”.

Among the companies selected are the leading private aerospace companies: SpaceX, Lockheed Martin, and the United Launch Alliance (ULA)

Approximately 70% of the total sum is earmarked for the management of cryogenic fluids. NASA estimates that durable cryogenic fluid management technologies are essential for establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon.

SpaceX will specifically have to demonstrate that it can transfer in-orbit 10 metric tons (11 tons) of liquid oxygen on a Starship vehicle. NASA did not provide a specific timetable of when the Starship refueling demonstration will take place.

NASA’s Latest Contract: What it Means for SpaceX

The latest contract granted by the federal agency will enable SpaceX to accelerate its Starship program. 

The company is actively developing various Starship prototypes in its facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. The current iteration of the launch vehicle, the SN8, is slated for its first static fire tests using three Raptor engines.

The first fire test could be set to occur tomorrow within a nine-hour time window, between 7:00 am and 3:40 pm EDT.

Assuming that the SN8’s first and second static fires are successful, Spacex will proceed with the 60,000-foot-hop test.

Project Artemis is starting to take shape, and SpaceX will be up to the challenge!


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