NASA’s Artemis moon landing delayed ‘several years’ as costs are ‘underreported’

NASA’s Artemis mission to return astronauts to the Moon in 2024 is running late and getting expensive, an assessment by the space agency’s watchdog has found.

A new report from NASA’s inspector general (OIG) found that the agency is likely to miss its 2024 goal by “several years” as delays and technical challenges plague the mission’s schedule.

The OIG also criticized the cost of the lunar landing project, saying NASA “does not have a complete and accurate cost estimate” of the program.

In total, the mission could cost $93 billion (82 billion euros) by 2025, the OIG said.

Last week, the US space agency pushed back the planned date for a lunar landing to 2025. The delay was due in part to legal actions by Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin, which sued NASA after getting lost in an attempt to build a lunar lander. vehicle for the Artemis program.

In a statement, NASA said the US Congress had not appropriated “sufficient funds” for the agency to award lunar lander contracts to more than one private company.

NASA said the delay was also due to “first-time development challenges” and that the 2024 deadline set by the former Trump administration was “not technically feasible.”

NASA “underreports” the cost

In its report, the OIG found that NASA uses a rough estimate of the cost of the first three Artemis missions “that excludes $25 billion (€22 billion) for key activities related to planned missions beyond “Artemis III”.

The report also accused NASA of “failing to develop an official cost estimate” for the Artemis program and said it was “under-reporting the true funding requirements” of the exploration project.

NASA’s cost estimate for the program excludes spending on the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), the replacement for the Space Shuttle launch vehicle that was retired in 2011, as well as the Gateway, a space station that orbits the Moon it is planned to serve. As an outpost for the astronauts of the Artemisa program.

In its cost estimate, the OIG said NASA would likely spend $93 billion (€82 billion) on the program by 2025 and face a cost per launch of $4.1 billion ( 3.6 billion euros) for at least the first four Artemis missions. .

In a written response, NASA said it had restructured its Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate organization to ensure effective management and agreed it should pursue “measurable cost reduction targets” across its group of Exploration Systems Development.

When will we land on the moon?

Artemis I, the first stage of the lunar landing mission, was originally scheduled to lift off this month, but NASA’s own estimates have pushed the launch of the unmanned lunar orbiter to February 2022.

The OIG report is more cautious, saying that Artemis I has a “higher probability of launch, in our estimation, in the summer of 2022.”

Artemis II, which will see a human crew fly 40,000 miles beyond the Moon before returning to Earth, is facing delays caused by the Artemis I mission, the OIG said.

A key issue for the mission is parts availability. To save money, NASA plans to reuse parts of the Orion spacecraft used on Artemis I for the follow-up mission.

Delays to Artemis I could therefore delay subsequent launches.

“NASA is likely to face schedule delays due to the reuse and installation of Orion components after Artemis I and a tight delivery schedule for the Orion Service Module,” the OIG report said.

Artemis III, the mission that would see humans set foot on the Moon for the first time since 1972, faces numerous problems of its own.

According to an OIG estimate based on past spaceflight development programs and delays caused by Blue Origin’s lawsuit, a lunar landing by Elon Musk’s SpaceX is likely to be delayed by 3.4 years.

NASA’s efforts to develop the next generation of spacesuits are another bottleneck, the OIG said, after the agency was forced to accelerate its schedule to meet a landing deadline in former President Donald Trump’s moon in 2024.

“The suits will not be ready for flight until May 2025 at the earliest,” the report states.

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