Tuesday, NASA held a press conference to give an update on the agency’s Artemis program. During the conference, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced delays to the launches of Artemis II and III.
This press conference comes shortly after the news that Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin lost its lawsuit against NASA over SpaceX‘s selection for the Human Landing System. The agency was quick to blame Blue Origin and its lawsuit when it officially announced that Artemis III, the first crewed landing on the Moon since Apollo 17, is no longer planned for 2024.
We have lost nearly seven months to litigation and that has likely pushed the first landing to 2025.Bill Nelson, NASA Administrator
Of course, this deadline was a stretch in the first place. The previous administration announced that it would push for a much sooner landing date in 2024 – not many people took it seriously. It’s great to see NASA push towards an ambitious timeline, but the 2024 date was more about political achievements than technical readiness.
Blue Origin’s lawsuit isn’t the only obstacle to blame
Since NASA’s deep space human missions were unified under the Artemis program, the agency has had a tough time getting the proper funding. Everything NASA does has to be approved by Congress, and everything has a dollar amount next to it. So when NASA doesn’t get the budget it requests, timelines have to shift.
Congress has been pretty apprehensive about funding NASA’s commercialization efforts. For example, the Commerical Crew Program was heavily underfunded in favor of the Space Launch System. Recently we’ve seen the same with NASA’s Human Landing System contract. As NASA pushes forward building a commercial market for lunar operations, Congress still wants NASA to own and operate its lander, similar to how Apollo worked.
Let’s also not forget about NASA’s xEMU suits for excursions by astronauts on the lunar surface. These were also a thorn in the side of the 2024 landing date as funding was low and progress by NASA was behind. As a result, NASA is once again looking at the commercial sector for options. This search is another attempt to see if the commercial market can help meet the Artemis III launch date.
What happens with Artemis now?
The battle between NASA and Congress for funding is not expected to go away anytime soon. However, Nelson’s experience as a congressman will hopefully make this challenge easier.
For Artemis I, we are still on track for a launch towards the beginning of next year. Nelson stated in the briefing that teams are making great progress towards SLS’s first launch. We should expect a wet dress rehearsal in January, and possibly a rollout of the rocket to LC-39B by the end of this year.
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