The biggest moment in the history of Space X, NASA has awarded 2.9 billion to them to get humans on the moon.

That’s 120 ft. of Starship. (Add in the booster and it is almost 400 ft tall.) There’s as much passenger space inside as a commercial jet. In comparison, the Blue Origin lander is only 35 ft. tall and the Dynetics entry is shorter but wider.

Blue Origin lost because they could not meet the NASA requirement that money would be paid in blocks along the way as benchmarks are achieved. Blue couldn’t do it, they needed the money upfront. The engines their lander would use are still not developed and nothing has flown. The lander is mostly disposable. The crew has to climb down a ladder in a spacesuit. A separate lander would be needed for equipment.

Dynetics lost due to technical difficulties. Their lander turned out to be much heavier than they expected and it also needed a separate lander for equipment. They would have to redesign the lander and it is a bit late and too expensive for that now.

We could say that Space X has similar issues. They haven’t successfully landed their Starship yet. But they are much farther along than Dynetics who haven’t actually built anything yet. And even though the new Raptor engines still have bugs, they are a more mature design than those of either competitor. Starship has a 100ft. elevator instead of Blur Origin’s 10 ft. ladder. However, if you were transferring a load of moon rocks, which would you rather use?

Starship is also going to be a permanent fixture, remaining in low earth orbit for use as a shuttle. Its large volume also makes it viable as a space station or a semi-permanent moon/Mars base. This cuts long-term costs dramatically.

Dynetics’ entry is short and wide with disposable fuel tanks and really tall solar panels.

Ultimately, SpaceX won because they could deliver at the best price. Their Starship vehicle is 100% reusable. It will have an incredible 150-ton payload capacity to orbit and with in-orbit refueling, 100 tons to the lunar surface and back. The fuel will be manufactured in a process that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere using solar power to create methane, so it’ll be close to carbon neutral. The big drawback is that Starship will have to be refueled once in low earth orbit which will require multiple tanker launches.

Blue Origin. There’s a 10 ft ladder barely visible from this angle that was problematic.

NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) and the Artemis program (The program name, not a vehicle. In mythology, she is sister to Apollo.) and Orion (crewed capsule, similar to the Apollo command module) are all still “go.”

When the Artemis program was started, Space X didn’t even exist. Once a government program gathers momentum it is virtually unstoppable.

The plan is still to build a big rocket (SLS – not quite as powerful as a Saturn V) to put a space station in lunar orbit (the Lunar Gateway) and pursue deep space goals independent of whoever was selected for the actual lunar lander. Blue Origin and Dynetics would have needed to use a dedicated SLS launch to get to the moon and back. Space X plans to launch Starship using its own superheavy booster. They are planning the first orbital test flight in July, long before NASA’s SLS is ready for flight test.

The goal is to return humanity to the moon in a more permanent way by 2024.

SLS/Orion

As far as I can tell, given the capabilities of the Falcon Heavy and the Starship, SLS/Artemis/Orion is largely an insurance policy in case Space X drops the ball. By using proven space shuttle engines, it ought to be extremely reliable. It is also a way to spread money around to various constituencies. We don’t want aerospace companies and voter segments turning against the space program because they didn’t get a share of the business.

Ordinarily, NASA would have funded two proposals for landers in case one didn’t work out. They didn’t have the money so, just like Highlander, there can be only one. To further add to Space X’s victory, their Falcon Heavy, proven reliable and the only super heavy capable launch system in the world today, won the contract to resupply the planned lunar gateway using a modified Dragon capsule. It is similar to the one currently used to resupply the space station.

The enormous effort Space X has put into reusable boosters and the many billions of dollars Elon Musk has sunk – and continues to sink – into the business without asking the government to front any money has won out. IMHO, it is American capitalism and at its best.