SpaceX proposed the lander at a meeting with the US space agency because it is a member of Odyssey Space Research's team for NASA's Altair project office lander evaluation study that began in March. The SpaceX lander would deliver 1,000kg (2,200lb) to the Moon's surface in support of NASA's Altair missions. The unmanned Altair cargo version could deliver 14,000kg to the Moon.
The SpaceX lander is launched by the company's heavy version of its Falcon 9 rocket. The standard version will make its maiden flight in 2009 with a first stage powered by nine Merlin 1C engines. The heavy version would use 27 engines with two Falcon 9 first stages as strap-on boosters.
SpaceX senior mission manager Max Vozoff says: "We presented to the Altair team the idea of a $500 million lunar lander COTS [Commercial Orbital Transportation Services] competition that could bring about vehicles with cargo capabilities of 1,000-3,000kg."
SpaceX is competing in COTS to develop a resupply capability for the International Space Station. NASA's commercial crew and cargo office has examined options for the extension of procurement beyond ISS resupply to lunar services. The options include lunar navigation and communications, sample return and "micro-landers".
Separately, SpaceX achieved a successful orbital launch of its Falcon 1 rocket from Kwajalein Atoll on 29 September. Three earlier launch attempts failed to reach orbit.
Chief executive Elon Musk says preliminary data indicates that Falcon 1 achieved an elliptical orbit of 500 x 700km (310 x 435 miles), 9.2° inclination, exactly as targeted.
Falcon 1 carried into orbit a dummy payload of around 165kg to simulate the mass of the US government satellites lost on 2 August, when the third launch ended in a stage separation failure.
SpaceX has said that a launch success would be followed by a NASA lobbying push to secure funding for crew transport capabilities under COTS.