Spaceflight Insider

NASA human Moon landing now no earlier than 2025

The Artemis program logo inside NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building. NASA hopes to begin Human Moon landings as early as 2025 with the Artemis 3 mission. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

The Artemis program logo inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building. NASA hopes to begin human Moon landings as early as 2025 with the Artemis 3 mission. Credit: Theresa Cross / Spaceflight Insider

In a media teleconference, NASA officials updated the agency’s projected timeline for the early phase of its Artemis program, which aims to return humans to the Moon.

Following the dismissal of Blue Origin’s lawsuit against NASA over the agency’s decision to select SpaceX to develop a Starship-based Human Landing System to send astronauts to the surface of the Moon for the Artemis 3 mission, a new timeline is starting to become more clear.

The Space Launch System for the Artemis 1 mission stands fully-stacked inside NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

The Space Launch System for the Artemis 1 mission stands fully-stacked inside NASA’s Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

According to NASA Administrator Bill Nelson, Artemis 1 — an uncrewed test flight of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft around the Moon — is targeting mid-February 2022 for launch. Artemis 2, now slated for no earlier than May 2024, would be the first crewed flight of the SLS/Orion system and involve sending four astronauts on a free-return trajectory around the Moon.

However, the main delay was the postponement of the Artemis 3 crewed Moon landing from no earlier than 2024 to likely sometime in 2025. This is the first time NASA has officially acknowledged the 2024 Moon landing date, which was set by the Trump administration in 2019, is no longer feasible.

“Prior to fiscal year 2022, previous Congresses did not appropriate enough dollars for development of the Human Landing System,” Nelson said during the Nov. 9, 2021, teleconference. “The Trump administration’s target of a 2024 human landing was not grounded in technical feasibility.”

Other delays include those from development challenges, natural disasters as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.

NASA also gave an updated budget outlook for the Orion development program through the first crewed test flight in 2024.

Agency officials said because of an increase in scope for the mission, the baseline development cost for the Orion program will be increasing from $6.7 billion to $9.3 billion.

Among the items being added to the crewed Artemis 2 mission include rendezvous and proximity operations activities, which test out much-needed procedures for the Artemis 3 Moon landing mission.

NASA said a development timeline for SpaceX’s Human Landing System is still to be determined. After seven months of litigation for the program, NASA needs to work with SpaceX over the next steps for its Lunar Starship.

Administrator Nelson did say the Artemis 3 landing using SpaceX’s Starship would still be preceded by an uncrewed test landing.

A rendering of SpaceX's Lunar Starship Human Landing System. Credit: SpaceX

A rendering of SpaceX’s Lunar Starship Human Landing System. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX’s Human Landing System contract, however, is only for the Artemis 3 crewed Moon landing. Future landings are expected to be through a competitive follow-up recurring services contract.

“Going forward, the Congress has made clear that there must be competition for the 10+ Moon landings in the future,” Nelson said. “There will be the need for a significant increase in funding for the competition. And that’s going to be starting with the 2023 budget.”

Nelson said the Human Landing System program will need some $5.7 billion over the next six years.

Missions beyond Artemis 3 have not received any updated timeline. NASA said other programs, such as the Lunar Gateway, which is to be a small outpost in a highly-elliptical orbit around the Moon, is currently on schedule for launch in 2024.

Additionally, several uncrewed Moon landings with small scientific payloads are slated to launch beginning in 2022 under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program.

Video courtesy of NASA

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Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.

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