NASA’s Inspector General says the crew of Artemis 3 should not be expected to land on the Moon in 2025.
In a follow-up hearing spotted by Space.com, NASA Inspector General Paul Martin confirmed information that many observers had already expected; the return of the Americans to the Moon, planned for 2025 on the occasion of the Artemis 3 mission, will ultimately not take place before 2026.
Two elements in particular played a significant role in this new deadline. At first, NASA confirms that it has accumulated a considerable delay on the side of the Human Landing System lander, the machine which will land on the Moon. It will also have to make considerable progress on its new generation of suits.
“The HLS affair” had a considerable impact
“Given the time needed to develop and test the Human Landing System and the next generation of spacesuits, we estimate that the landing of a vehicle with its crew will probably be pushed back to 2026 at the earliest.”, concedes Martin.
All in all, these are fairly predictable delays. But NASA has also been confronted with a few mishaps that have not made its task any easier. Admittedly, on the whole, its new approach based on large-scale private partnerships is a real success. But the agency also experienced some friction with some of its collaborators.
In the specific case of the HLS, one thinks in particular of the resounding imbroglio around the famous “HLS affair”. As a reminder, NASA had issued a call for tenders in order to find private partners for the construction of the centerpiece of the program.
The big names in the sector, starting with SpaceX and Blue Origin, therefore rushed to their phones to claim a place in this prestigious program. But by dint of wanting to put pressure on the agency, the firm of Jeff Bezos apparently exhausted its capital patience; a bargain that did not please NASA at all, which simply ended up kick the firm out of the program without any other form of trial… or almost.
Because in the process, Blue Origin, somewhat annoyed, put all its legislative arsenal in working order; NASA and SpaceX have faced a heavy fire of repeated lawsuits. This real judicial deluge was so dense that it paralyzed the Artemis program. Blue Origin ended up losing its lawsuit and work was able to resume, but these “7 month hiatus”have undoubtedly played a role in this new postponement.
Boeing also pointed the finger
The purely technical aspect should not be neglected either. And this does not only concern the Artemis 3 mission, but also the first two deadlines of the program. At this level, NASA has also had unpleasant surprises in the context of certain private partnerships.
It starts with Boeing, which has not lived up to NASA’s expectations at all. Indeed, the aviation giant plays a central role in the development of the SLS, the launcher which will serve as a strong arm in the first stages of the program. In particular, the company must take care of the entire central part, with the exception of the engine, the Orion capsule and its mounting bracket.
The problem is that the aircraft manufacturer misjudged the magnitude of the task; today, collaboration with Boeing is above all synonymous with huge delays and budget explosions. As it stands, the SLS project has already happily exceeded ten billion dollars in development alone. Unsurprisingly, NASA therefore cut itself short and sought another less spendthrift partner; but at the level of the calendar, the damage is already done.
This delay is also linked to a history of supply and personnel management. This aspect has been particularly complicated lately. A situation due in particular to the Covid-19 pandemic; this has paralyzed certain crucial logistics chains and the work habits of certain personnel with essential expertise.
Other deadlines to be expected?
By listing these elements, we also realize that the delay could have been much greater. To be honest, it wouldn’t be surprising if this deadline were pushed back once or even several times. After all, this is already the second consecutive postponement.
According to the very oriented and rather fanciful calendar initially formulated by a Donald Trump in the midst of a political crusade, Artemis 3 was supposed to land on the Moon as early as 2024. A deadline that made most observers smile; they were therefore not surprised when this date was moved to 2025, and will certainly not be surprised to learn of this new postponement.
It remains to be hoped that this is only a setback; it would be a shame to see this project turn into an industrial abyss liable to threaten the very existence of the agency.