By Doug Cameron 

NASA on Friday awarded a contract to SpaceX to build a new capsule to land astronauts on the moon, the latest in a string of lunar-related wins for the Elon Musk-controlled firm.

SpaceX beat out two rivals for the Human Landing System that will carry astronauts to and from the moon's surface as early as 2024. The contract is part of a larger Artemis program led by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to explore and develop deep space that relies more heavily on the private sector and commercial funding.

The lander deal adds to the products being developed by SpaceX, with recent funding rounds raising its valuation close to $100 billion as it pursues a mix of new rockets, space taxis and an array of hundreds of satellites for military and commercial customers.

NASA plans to use a new rocket made by Boeing Co. for a moon mission known as Artemis 1 as early as November. This would fly around the moon before returning the Orion crew capsule produced by Lockheed Martin Corp. to Earth.

Current plans call for a second crewed test in 2023 that would be followed the next year by the first astronaut landing since 1972, using the SpaceX moon taxi to transfer to and from Orion. The final schedule for the Artemis program depends on developing and testing the equipment and securing funding for the program.

The SLS rocket and Orion crew capsule are both owned by NASA, but the lunar lander is the largest part of Artemis to rely on a public-private partnership, owned and run by SpaceX, formally known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

SpaceX already flies astronauts on behalf of NASA to and from the International Space Station, with the second crewed mission planned for next week. Boeing's own space taxi has yet to reach the space station after an uncrewed test flight fell short in 2019, with a second attempt expected later this year.

Closely held SpaceX beat out competition to build the initial lander from Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin and the Dynetics unit of Leidos Holdings Inc.

Write to Doug Cameron at doug.cameron@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

April 16, 2021 17:15 ET (21:15 GMT)

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