Starship HLS

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Starship HLS
Starship HLS Moon landing.jpg
Artist's concept of Starship HLS unloading astronauts and cargo on the Moon
Country of originUnited States
ApplicationsCrewed reusable lunar lander
Launch mass~1,320,000 kg (2,910,000 lb)
RegimeCislunar space
Length50 m (164 ft 1 in)
Width9 m (29 ft 6 in)
Payload to Moon
Mass100–200 t (220,000–440,000 lb)[1]:17:40
StatusIn development
Maiden launchNET 2024
EnginesRaptor, RCS thruster bank
Fueloxygen, methane

Starship HLS is a lunar lander variant of the Starship second stage and spaceship that has been being privately developed by SpaceX since the mid-2010s. The HLS variant is being developed under contract to NASA. The initial contracted design work started in May 2020, with selection and funding for full-development occurring in April 2021, when Starship HLS was selected by NASA to take "the first woman and the next man to the Moon" as part of NASA's Artemis program, potentially as early as 2024.

NASA signed a US$2.89 billion contract with SpaceX to develop and manufacture Starship HLS,[2] and to conduct two flights — an uncrewed demonstration mission, and a crewed lunar landing.[3][4] It is also planned to conduct landings for future Artemis missions. Starship HLS is intended to dock in lunar orbit with either the NASA Orion spacecraft or NASA lunar Gateway space station, in order to take on passengers before descending to the lunar surface.

Starship HLS has no heat shield nor air‑brakes, both of which are a standard part of the main Starship design. To land on the Moon, Starship HLS is equipped with a complement of landing thrusters used upon final descent and takeoff from the lunar surface.


The Starship design was initially conceived in the early 2010s as a spaceship that would be principally built for the Mars colonization effort that Elon Musk has advocated for nearly a decade,[5] with the first colonists arriving no earlier than the middle of the 2020s.[6]

By 2016, the scope became somewhat broader, when Musk realized the high-level design SpaceX had been working on for the second stage and spacecraft would be suitable for interplanetary travel more generally, and could work both on planets with and without a planetary atmosphere.[7] Lunar destination flights, however, were not generally emphasized by Musk, and he specifically argued that the Moon was not a necessary step on the path to Mars.[8][9]

By late 2018, SpaceX had specified the primary construction material for Starship to be stainless steel[10]— after approximately a year of building manufacturing pathfinder hardware out of carbon composite materials—and manufacture of the initial test article including pressure vessel construction for the liquid methane and liquid oxygen tanks began in early 2019.[11]

By March 2021, seven Starship prototype vehicles, each with different vehicle design configurations and varied test objectives, had flown a total of eight suborbital test flights since July 2019, all launched from the SpaceX South Texas launch site at Boca Chica.[12]

Mockup of the lander's nose section at Starbase

Lunar lander Starship[edit]

Starship HLS, with HLS being an acronym for Human Landing System, was first revealed to the public when it was initially selected by NASA in April 2020 for a design study as part of NASA's Artemis program, which aims to land humans on the Moon. SpaceX was one of three teams selected to develop company-specific lunar lander designs for the Artemis program over a year-long[13] period in 2020–2021, starting in May 2020.[13] The other landers in consideration were Dynetics HLS, developed by aerospace manufacturer Dynetics, and the Integrated Lander Vehicle, developed with Blue Origin as the primary contractor and designer of the "descent element," but with Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper as well.[14] NASA intended to later select and fund at most two of these landers to continue to initial demonstration flights.[15][16]

On 16 April 2021, NASA selected only Starship HLS for crewed lunar lander development[2] plus two lunar demonstration flights — one uncrewed and one crewed — no earlier than 2024. The contract is valued at US$2.89 billion over a number of years.[3][4] Two NASA Artemis astronauts are to land on the first crewed Starship HLS landing.[17] NASA had previously stated that it preferred multiple Human Landing System proposals with dissimilar capabilities; however, "only one design was selected for an initial uncrewed demonstration and the first crewed landing, due to significant budget constraints" for the human landing system program imposed by Congress. NASA stated that the unselected proposals — Dynetics HLS and Blue Origin ILV — as well as landers from other companies would be eligible for later lunar landing contracts.[4]


Since the design of Starship HLS is optimized to operate exclusively in the vacuum of space, both the heat shield and air‑brakes—integral parts of the main Starship design — have been omitted on Starship HLS. The variant will use high‑thrust oxygen- and methane-fueled thrusters located mid‑body on Starship HLS during the final "tens of meters" of the terminal lunar descent and landing to avoid plume impingement problems with the lunar regolith.[18][19] SpaceX intends to use the same high‑thrust RCS thrusters for liftoff from the lunar surface.[18]:50:30 Starship HLS is supplied with electrical power by a band of solar panels around the circumference of the vehicle.

Starship HLS requires in-orbit propellant transfer in its mission profile. Prior to the launch of the HLS vehicle, a Starship propellant depot would be launched into low Earth orbit, and refueled to capacity by several Starship flights carrying propellant. The Starship HLS vehicle would then launch and rendezvous with the already-loaded propellant depot to expedite refueling operations before Starship HLS departs for the Moon.

Starship HLS incorporates the following design characteristics:[4]

  • 24 midbody oxygen-methane thrusters for use in landing on the lunar surface
  • 100-day loiter capability in lunar orbit
  • lunar upmass and downmass that far exceed NASA requirements
  • support for a greater number of EVAs on the lunar surface than the minimum required by NASA
  • excess-propellant margin can be applied to expedite an emergency ascent from the Moon

Within the Artemis lunar landing architecture as of April 2021,[4] a NASA Orion spacecraft is planned to be launched by a Space Launch System rocket and rendezvous with a waiting Starship HLS lander already present in a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon. The crew of Orion would then dock with, and transfer to Starship HLS, which would subsequently depart and descend to the lunar surface. After lunar surface operations, Starship HLS will lift-off from the Moon and return to lunar orbit to rendezvous with Orion. The crew then transfers back to Orion and departs for Earth. Although not confirmed yet, Starship HLS could, in theory, be refueled in orbit to carry more crews and cargo to the surface.[14][16]

In September 2020, Elon Musk stated there was no need to bring early ships back.[19][non-primary source needed]


  1. ^ Elon Musk and Peter Diamandis LIVE on $100M XPRIZE Carbon Removal, retrieved 22 April 2021
  2. ^ a b Foust, Jeff (16 April 2021). "NASA selects SpaceX to develop crewed lunar lander". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 April 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Berger, Eric (16 April 2021). "NASA selects SpaceX as its sole provider for a lunar lander - "We looked at what's the best value to the government."". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 17 April 2021. Retrieved 17 April 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b c d e Burghardt, Thomas (20 April 2021). "After NASA taps SpaceX's Starship for first Artemis landings, agency looks to on-ramp future vehicles". SpaceNews. Retrieved 21 April 2021. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ "Elon Musk: I'll Put a Man on Mars in 10 Years". Market Watch. New York: The Wall Street Journal. 22 April 2011. Archived from the original on 1 December 2011. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  6. ^ "Huge Mars Colony Eyed by SpaceX Founder". Discovery News. 13 December 2012. Archived from the original on 15 November 2014. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  7. ^ Berger, Eric (18 September 2016). "Elon Musk scales up his ambitions, considering going "well beyond" Mars". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  8. ^ Knapp, Alex. "SpaceX Billionaire Elon Musk On The Business And Future Of Space Travel". Forbes. Retrieved 23 April 2021.
  9. ^
  10. ^ D'Agostino, Ryan (22 January 2019). "Elon Musk: Why I'm Building the Starship out of Stainless Steel". Popular Mechanics. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  11. ^ Ralph, Eric (9 March 2019). "SpaceX's Starship prototype moved to launch pad on new rocket transporter". Teslarati. Archived from the original on 6 January 2020. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  12. ^ "Starship SN8 12.5-Kilometer hop". Retrieved 5 December 2020.
  13. ^ a b NextSTEP H: Human Landing System Archived 8 December 2020 at the Wayback Machine, NASA, 27 January 2021, retrieved 31 January 2021.
  14. ^ a b "NASA Selects Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX Human Landers for Artemis". 1 May 2020. Archived from the original on 15 May 2020. Retrieved 15 May 2020.
  15. ^ "SpaceX, Blue Origin and Dynetics will build human lunar landers for NASA's next trip back to the Moon". Archived from the original on 2 September 2020. Retrieved 1 May 2020.
  16. ^ a b Potter, Sean (30 April 2020). "NASA Names Companies to Develop Human Landers for Artemis Missions". NASA. Archived from the original on 11 May 2020. Retrieved 15 May 2020. This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ Brown, Katherine (16 April 2021). "As Artemis Moves Forward, NASA Picks SpaceX to Land Next Americans on Moon". Archived from the original on 16 April 2021. Retrieved 16 April 2021.
  18. ^ a b Cummings, Nick (11 June 2020). Human Landing System: Putting Boots Back on the Moon. American Astronautical Society. Event occurs at 35:00–36:02. Retrieved 12 June 2020 – via YouTube. for the terminal descent of Starship, a few tens of meters before we touch down on the lunar surface, we actually use a high-thrust RCS system, so that we don't impinge on the surface of the Moon with the high-thrust Raptor engines. ... uses the same methane and oxygen propellants as Raptor.
  19. ^ a b Musk, Elon. "Forward thrusters are to stabilize ship when landing in high winds. If goal is max payload to moon per ship, no heatshield or flaps or big gas thruster packs are needed. No need to bring early ships back. They can serve as part of moon base alpha". Archived from the original on 2 September 2020.