On Monday, NASA’s Office of Inspector General released a report detailing their finding during an audit of the Agency’s Artemis missions. The results are full of information on Starship and predicted timelines for Artemis I through III.
Artemis I launch mid-summer 2022
Late last month, NASA announced dates for the agency’s debut launch of the Space Launch System, which has been in development for over a decade. SLS may finally be making the rollout to the pad this year, a long-awaited moment for many.
The agency has high hopes it will launch Artemis I, a shakedown of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, as soon as mid-February. However, NASA’s OIG disagrees. Instead, it predicts a launch in mid-summer of 2022.
Not a far-off prediction to make, while NASA’s rocket is fully assembled and preparing to roll out to LC-39B later this year, launch in February will be extremely tight. This would require a perfect wet dress rehearsal and no unplanned pre-launch maintenance. SLS has not had an excellent track record of staying on time in the past. The OIG states that issues during the Green Run tests, COVID-19, and hurricanes in Louisiana and Florida will make it difficult for NASA to meet a deadline before summertime.
Artemis III dealyed by several years
While many of these dates in this report, and presumably information, are based on pre-Artemis updates given just the other week. The reasons for the delays have not changed. Artemis III, the first human landing on the Moon since Apollo 17, will rely on critical technologies developed by either NASA or private companies.
First, the Human Landing System, while a now unleashed NASA-SpaceX partnership may seem like a powerhouse for development, history would show us NASA struggles at keeping to its development timelines. NASA wants to develop SpaceX’s Starship into their Artemis lander in 4.3 years. An ambitious date we should all cheer for, but the OIG report states on average, it takes NASA spaceflight programs 8.5 years to go from award to operation.
Of course, this could be solved with increased funding by Congress, but… oh wait, NASA tried that.
The OIG believes that this, paired with a continued risk that NASA’s Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), which has to be developed by the new 2025 deadline, could cause lengthy delays. The report states that a launch delay into 2026 or more is likely solely off these two projects alone.
It’s important to note that these OIG reports are meant to push NASA to improve its programs to meet its original deadlines. It is still quite possible for NASA and its partners to meet the milestones laid out if action is made to fix the concerns this report brings to light.
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