Skip to main content

NASA picks SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch two key pieces of the Lunar Gateway

NASA picks SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy to launch two key pieces of the Lunar Gateway

/

The decision prompted some contractual hiccups

Share this story

SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket Launches Communications Satellite
Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

NASA chose SpaceX’s heavy-lift Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the first two elements of the agency’s Lunar Gateway, a planned outpost orbiting the moon. The two Gateway pieces, a propulsion module and astronaut living quarters, were originally designed to launch separately, but NASA picked SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy as a one-trip solution for $332 million.

Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s strongest operational rocket, will send both Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and its Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) to space as one integrated payload “no earlier than May 2024,” NASA said in a statement Tuesday night. NASA originally planned to have the PPE, built by Maxar, and HALO, built by Northrop Grumman, mate in space after launching atop two separate rockets, but the agency decided last year to launch them together in a single mission to cut costs.

Launching on one rocket “contributed to cost increases” for PPE and HALO

Instead, it “contributed to cost increases due to the redesign of several components” for both Maxar’s PPE and Northrop’s HALO, NASA’s inspector general wrote in a report released last year. It added that launching the two elements together could be risky, because the payload “may be too heavy for commercially available rockets or too long for the rocket’s fairing.” The rocket ultimately met NASA’s performance requirements, NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt told The Verge.

That report also found that combining the Gateway elements would result in “a longer duration flight to lunar orbit,” which could add extra costs to the mission. Among the costs included in the recently-announced $332 million price tag are “payload processing facilities, support contractors, range support, spacecraft propellants, communications, and telemetry,” Witt said. She declined to say whether the cost will support any changes to Falcon Heavy’s payload shell to accommodate the hefty size and weight of launching two Gateway elements that were originally designed for separate rockets. SpaceX didn’t return a request for comment. 

$332 million was three times more than what the agency has previously awarded for another upcoming Falcon Heavy launch — NASA will pay SpaceX $117 million to launch its Psyche asteroid mission on the rocket in 2022. But SpaceX has commanded steep prices for Falcon Heavy launches before. In late 2020 SpaceX got $316 million from the Air Force for a single Falcon Heavy launch, but that hefty price tag “reflects mostly the infrastructure,” SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell clarified. That infrastructure includes a new mobile service tower meant to satisfy requirements for processing national security-related payloads, according to an FAA filing.

Beyond price, NASA’s decision to combine the two elements meant some complicated juggling from each of the companies involved. It forced Maxar to cancel a contract it had already signed with SpaceX to launch the PPE and other satellites. The company paid SpaceX $27.5 million, including $6 million that came from NASA. To resolve this predicament, Witt said the agency “negotiated contractual modifications with Maxar to remove the previous launch service.”

And for Northrop, launching the HALO habitat together with the PPE forced the company to shave off cargo it originally planned to send packaged inside, according to the inspector general report. Now, “HALO will not be able to deliver additional cargo as originally envisioned which will result in an earlier than planned resupply in orbit,” which means an additional rocket launch might be necessary.

Related:

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed 48 minutes ago Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma Roth48 minutes ago
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma RothAn hour ago
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma Roth5:52 PM UTC
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.