NASA’s Artemis moon landing delayed ‘several years’ due to ‘understated’ costs

NASA’s Artemis mission to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 is delayed and becoming costly, according to an assessment by the space agency’s watchdog.

BUT new NASA Inspector General (OIG) report found that the agency was likely to exceed its 2024 target by “several years” as the mission’s schedule was affected by delays and technical problems.

OIG also criticized the cost of the Moon landing project, saying NASA “lacks a comprehensive and accurate cost estimate” for the program.

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

Last week, the US space agency pushed back the expected date of the moon landings to 2025. The delay was partly due to a lawsuit by Blue Origin, owned by Jeff Bezos, which sued NASA after losing its attempt to build a moon landing. vehicle for the Artemis program.

In a statementNASA said the U.S. Congress did not provide the agency with “sufficient funds” to secure vehicle moon landing contracts with more than one private company.

NASA said the delay was also due to “initial development issues” and the 2024 deadline set by the former Trump administration “is not technically feasible.”

NASA “understates” the cost

In its report, OIG found that NASA was using a cost estimate for the first three Artemis missions “which excludes $25 billion (€22 billion) for key activities associated with planned post-Artemis III missions.”

The report also accused NASA of “failing to develop an official cost estimate” for the Artemis program and said it “understates the true funding needs” of the research project.

NASA’s cost estimate for the program does not include the cost of developing the Space Launch System (SLS)—a replacement for the Space Shuttle launch vehicle that was decommissioned in 2011—and Gateway, a lunar-orbiting space station that is planned to be serviced. . as an outpost for astronauts under the Artemis program.

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

In a written response, NASA stated that it had restructured its Human Exploration and Exploitation Mission Directorate organization to ensure efficient management, and that it had agreed to look for “measurable cost reduction targets” within its Exploration Systems Development Division.

When will we land on the moon?

Artemis I, the first leg of the lunar landing mission, was originally scheduled to launch this month, but NASA’s own estimate is that the launch of the unmanned lunar orbiter has been pushed back to February 2022.

The OIG report is more cautious, saying that Artemis I has a “higher probability of launch – by our estimate – by summer 2022”.

Artemis II, which will take a human crew 40,000 miles beyond the moon before returning to Earth, is facing major delays compared to the Artemis I mission, OIG said.

A key issue for the mission is the availability of parts. To save money, NASA plans to reuse parts of the Orion spacecraft used in Artemis 1 for a follow-up mission.

Thus delays with Artemis I may have delayed subsequent launches.

“NASA is likely to experience a schedule delay due to the reuse and installation of post-Artemis I Orion components and the tight delivery schedule of the Orion service module,” the OIG report said.

The Artemis III mission, which will see humans set foot on the moon for the first time since 1972, faces many challenges of its own.

The lunar lander, due to be built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, is likely to be delayed by 3.4 years, according to an OIG estimate based on previous spaceflight development programs and delays caused by the Blue Origin lawsuit.

NASA’s efforts to develop next-generation spacesuits are another bottleneck after the agency was forced to speed up its schedule to meet the deadline set by former President Donald Trump for a 2024 moon landing, OIG said.

“The suits will be ready for flight no earlier than May 2025,” the report says.