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NASA signs SpaceX Dragon 'XL' to supply lunar orbit Gateway

March 27, 2020

— SpaceX will adapt its Dragon spacecraft to launch supplies to the moon under a new, multi-billion-dollar contract with NASA.

Dubbed "Dragon XL," the new SpaceX cargo capsule will service the Gateway, NASA's planned human-tended waystation in lunar orbit. The Dragon XL will fly at least two, one-year missions to support science experiments aboard the Gateway and astronaut expeditions on the lunar surface.

"Through our partnership with NASA, SpaceX has been delivering scientific research and critical supplies to the International Space Station since 2012, and we are honored to continue the work beyond Earth's orbit and carry Artemis cargo to Gateway," Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX's president and chief operating officer, said in a statement.

"Returning to the moon and supporting future space exploration requires affordable delivery of significant amounts of cargo," said Shotwell.

The first of what NASA expects to be multiple awards under its $7 billion Gateway Logistics Services contract, the Dragon XL missions will help the space agency achieve its plans for sustainable mission operations above and on the moon, while also developing the capabilities needed for future expeditions.

"This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the moon sustainably," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars."

The Gateway Logistics Services contract enables NASA to order missions for as long as 12 years with a 15-year performance period and the ability to add new competitive providers. Each firm-fixed price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract guarantees each logistics services provider two missions to the Gateway.

SpaceX plans to launch Dragon XL spacecraft atop Falcon Heavy rockets from Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. An artist's concept released with the contract announcement depicted the spacecraft as having two solar array wings, similar to the configuration of SpaceX's first-generation Dragon cargo spacecraft.

According to the company, the Dragon XL will have the ability to carry more than 5 metric tons of cargo to the Gateway. The capsule will be able to deliver both pressurized and unpressurized cargo, including lunar sample collection materials.

NASA anticipates scheduling a logistics service flight for each of the Artemis crews that launch on an Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to the Gateway.

"This is an exciting new chapter for human exploration," Mark Wiese, NASA's manager for deep space logistics, said. "We are bringing the innovative thinking of commercial industry into our supply chain and helping ensure we're able to support crews preparing for lunar surface expeditions by delivering the supplies they need ahead of time."

Under the Artemis program, NASA is working to return humans to the moon by 2024, landing the first woman and the next man since the Apollo program more than 50 years ago. The Gateway, to be deployed between 2022 and 2028, will enable human landing systems to be reused between surface operations, as well as serve as a testbed for a deep space transport.

SpaceX now joins the team of companies that are supporting NASA's plans for the Gateway, including Maxar Technologies and Northrop Grumman, which are providing the platform's power and propulsion element (PPE) and habitation and logistics outpost (HALO), respectively.

"We're making significant progress moving from our concept of the Gateway to reality," said Gateway program manager Dan Hartman. "Bringing a logistics provider onboard ensures we can transport all the critical supplies we need for the Gateway and on the lunar surface to do research and technology demonstrations in space that we can't do anywhere else."


Illustration of SpaceX's Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy's second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. (SpaceX)

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