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May 29, 2024

NASA Pushes Back Target Date for Returning Humans to the Moon to 2026

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Jan 10, 2024

NASA has announced that it is delaying plans to return astronauts to the moon, pushing the target from 2024 to 2026 amid ongoing technical issues and funding uncertainties with key hardware needed for the Artemis program.

Timeline of Artemis Program and Causes of Delay

The Artemis program aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2026, using innovative new technologies and space craft. This timeline has been delayed several times from the original target of 2024.

Year Major Artemis Milestones (Planned) Factors Contributing to Schedule Changes
2017 Artemis program announced by Trump administration with goal of landing humans on moon by 2024 – Ambitious deadline set for political reasons
– Significant technical challenges recognized upfront
2021 NASA selects SpaceX Starship to develop human landing system after NASA request for proposals – Adds dependency on Starship development timeline
2022 First test flight of Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule (Artemis I) – Multiple delays due to hardware issues and storm damage
2023 First crewed flight around the moon (Artemis II) with astronauts aboard Orion capsule – Awaiting results of Artemis I test flight
2024 Attempt first lunar landing with astronauts (Artemis III) – Original target date widely viewed as unrealistic
– Starship and spacesuits not on track for 2024 operational capability
2025 Second test flight and first crewed flight around moon (Artemis II) – Schedule change allows more time for hardware development
– Aims to reduce risks for astronaut safety

| 2026 | Attempt first lunar landing (Artemis III) | – Delays driven by technical challenges across programs
– 2026 aligns major Artemis elements while minimizing gaps

The 2024 date for returning astronauts to the lunar surface has always been considered ambitious given the scale and complexity of the development work required. NASA has been transparent about potential delays from the start. The schedule change to 2026 provides some additional margin to complete, integrate, and test major hardware elements including the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft, spacesuits, and SpaceX’s Starship human landing system. There have been technical issues uncovered during recent integration and testing that require design changes and modifications which take additional time.

While politically inconvenient, NASA stresses its commitment to mission success and astronaut safety as the top priorities, even if that means accepting delays to overcome challenges. The agency aims to establish a sustainable human lunar exploration program through Artemis versus achieving an arbitrary near term deadline.

Hardware and Technology Challenges Behind the Delay

Several critical technologies being developed for the Artemis program required additional time to test and qualify for crewed lunar missions based on results from recent milestones.

Space Launch System and Orion Spacecraft

The first combined test flight of the large Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew capsule currently has a target launch readiness date of June 2023. This Artemis I mission is an uncrewed orbital flight test around the moonIntended to fully wring out the integrated system performance.

  • The SLS core stage experienced technical issues during a critical pre-launch test firing last fall, requiring months of disassembly and corrective action. Additional validation testing is planned after reassembly.

  • The Artemis I flight capsule and other ground test articles suffered tornado damage at Kennedy Space Center last year. Repairs and regression testing needed before the first launch.

  • Double checking all hardware after extensive troubleshooting and repairs requires suitable schedule margin heading into the maiden SLS-Orion launch.

Once Artemis I flies successfully, the second Artemis II mission can launch with astronauts aboard. NASA decided additional time between the first two flights allows for necessary data reviews, potential rework if required based on flight results, and detailed mission planning.

Spacesuit Development Falls Behind

NASA is working with commercial partner Collins Aerospace to develop advanced spacesuits configurable for launch, lunar landing, and surface extravehicular activity (EVA) operations.

Recent spacesuit testing resulted in mobility and fit issues that couldn’t meet requirements for anticipated Artemis III mission timelines. Fixing these problems requires spacesuit design modifications and additional qualification testing before they can be cleared for flight.

Until the suits clear verification milestones, NASA can’t firmly commit to mission dates dependent on their operational readiness. Spacesuits are essential equipment for conducting lunar surface EVAs during Artemis crewed missions.

SpaceX Starship Approaching Operational Capability

In 2021 NASA selected Elon Musk’s SpaceX to design and build the Artemis human landing system based heavily on Starship technology. As the sole provider selected and funded for this program element, Starship’s development schedule directly impacts NASA’s ability to integrate the full end-to-end architecture to land astronauts on the moon.

SpaceX has been maturing Starship design and prototypes at an impressive pace. They are targeting the first orbital launch test this spring. However, successfully demonstrating a crew-rated Starship variant for NASA human certification takes substantial additional work.

Delays in Artemis landing mission timing allow SpaceX more iterations proving Starship readiness and reliability for lunar landings. This incrementally reduces overall program risk relative to the original 2024 target date.

Path Ahead for Getting Back on Track

Pushing Artemis timelines back two years is a major schedule change. However, NASA believes the revised plan allows each component of the lunar landing architecture to complete development, testing, and integration work at a more realistic and feasible pace.

What milestones should we look for in the coming years to track Artemis progress?

2023

  • Artemis I Launch – Getting the first SLS/Orion test flight off the ground is the next critical milestone now scheduled by June. Performance data from the uncrewed lunar orbit mission will feed forward to Artemis II.

  • More Starship Testing – SpaceX has an extremely ambitious 2023 test flight campaign underway for Starship variants including planned orbital launch and landing. NASA requires extensive further testing before designing crew missions.

2024

  • Astronaut Moon Mission Training – astronaut crews will be formally selected, trained, and readied for Artemis II and III flight assignment. Training facilities and simulators updated based on Artemis I results.

  • Initial Lunar Gateway Module Launch – Starting deployment of the small space station in lunar orbit which will support sustained Artemis presence and future surface missions.

2025

  • Artemis II Crewed Lunar Flyby – The first Orion flight with astronauts aboard represents the final full system test before attempting crewed landing. Verifying deep space crew operations a key prerequisite.

  • Complete Lunar Landing Site Selection – NASA identifying multiple regions of interest for lunar south pole landings based on resources, terrain, lighting, and other factors.

  • Starship: Super Heavy Booster Testing – SpaceX working towards maiden launches of the large Super Heavy booster which provides thrust for crew Starship lunar launches.

2026

  • Artemis III: Return Humans to Lunar Surface – The flagship mission targeted for next crewed moon landing attempt. Launch date remains fluid pending preceding milestone completion.

  • Establish Sustainable Lunar Presence – After the decades long gap since Apollo, Artemis III represents just the first step towards continuous human access and cornerstone science activities on and around the moon.

While the latest Artemis delays are disappointing for advocates eager to get astronauts out exploring deep space again, NASA’s renewed focus on methodical testing and risk reduction will pay off with successful missions over the coming years. The space agency is laying the foundation for many exciting new discoveries about the moon, Mars, and beyond through its Artemis program.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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