NASA made official Tuesday something many in the space industry assumed for years: astronauts will not land on the lunar surface by 2024.
During an update on the agency’s moon-focused Artemis program, Administrator Bill Nelson told reporters the agency will be able to launch astronauts on an orbital mission around the moon, known as Artemis II, by 2024. But the long-mentioned goal of putting two astronauts on the lunar surface (Artemis III) will push to 2025 due to budgets, technical issues, a recently dismissed Blue Origin lawsuit, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Nelson stated that the Trump Administration’s goal of landing a human being on Mars in 2024 was impossible to achieve technical feasibility. We’ve lost seven months of litigation, and this likely has made it impossible for the first human landing in 2025.
On the latter point, Nelson was referring to Jeff Bezos-founded Blue Origin and its recent protest of a $2.9 billion lunar lander contract awarded to rival SpaceX. NASA selected the company’s Starship vehicle to only deliver Artemis astronauts from lunar orbit down to the surface – the agency’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule are responsible for the trip from Florida to lunar orbit.
Nov. 4:What happens when an asteroid comes towards Earth? NASA has a plan. It involves an asteroid heading towards Earth.
Know what’s up before you finish your cup.Register for Daily Briefing’s morning newsletter.
A federal judge dismissed Blue’s suit and stated that work between NASA/SpaceX can continue. Nelson has confirmed that the development of Starships is now resumed. He plans to visit SpaceX’s Starship production facility in South Texas along with other senior officials early next year.
“Our teams need time to speak with SpaceX about the Human Landing System,” Nelson said, adding SpaceX’s Starship is expected to first conduct an uncrewed lunar landing sometime in 2023 as a test.
Nelson stated that Congress also bears some responsibility for the inability to maintain development-related budgets. SLS, Orion and Artemis were both in development more than 10 years ago.
Nelson stated that “Prior Fiscal Year 22″, previous Congresses had not allocated enough money for the development of the Human Landing System. Congress made it clear in its future that competition must exist for 10+ moon landings. A significant increase in competition funding will be required, and it’s starting with the budget for 2023.”
However, the possibility that Artemis III will be delayed beyond 2024 is something we have discussed for many months. The agency’s own inspector general warned the program was at significant risk of slipping well before any lawsuits were filed by Blue Origin and offered several ways to reduce costs and increase transparency. NASA generally agreed with the recommendations of NASA’s inspector general.
Nelson stated that the United States should feel an urgency due to increasing competition from countries such as China, and its recently launched space station.
“After all, the Chinese space program is increasingly capable of landing Chinese taikonauts much earlier than originally expected. He stated that we will be aggressive in order to defeat our rivals with boots on the Moon.
Follow Emre Kelly on Twitter: @EmreKelly