The U.S. Accountability Office (The Government Accountability Office, or GAO) has published a report on the preparation of the Artemis III mission, during which NASA plans to return people to the Moon. The authors of the document concluded that, with a very high probability, its launch would not take place in 2025.
The Artemis III mission is supposed to be the first manned moon landing since 1972. The current plan assumes that NASA will send the Orion spacecraft with astronauts to the Moon. In a selenocentric orbit, it will dock with the SpaceX-constructed Starship HLS lander. After that, the two astronauts will land at the South Pole of the moon, spend about a week there, and then return to Earth.
At the moment, the implementation of the Artemis III mission is scheduled for the end of 2025. But, according to the auditors, NASA has almost no chance of meeting this schedule. The authors of the document identified four main reasons.
The authors of the HLS (Human Landing System) program, which creates a lunar lander, expect to complete the project in 79 months, counting from the beginning of development to manned flight. This is 13 months less than the average time for the development of NASA’s main projects, most of which do not involve the flight of people into space.
Delays in key events
As of September 2023, eight of the thirteen key events under the HLS program have been postponed for at least 6 months. Two of them were postponed until 2025, the year when the flight of Artemis III is planned.
Large amount of remaining work
SpaceX is planning to carry out a significant amount of complex technical work to support Artemis III, including the development of an on-orbit propellant storage and transfer technology. NASA documentation says that SpaceX has made limited progress in developing the technologies needed to solve this task.
Axiom, which has received a contract to create lunar spacesuits, has a lot of work to do to solve the technical problems it faces. For example, NASA’s initial design did not provide the minimum amount of emergency life support needed for the Artemis III mission. As a result, Axiom representatives said they could redesign some aspects of the spacesuit, which could delay its delivery for the mission.
All these factors make it extremely doubtful that Artemis III will fly in 2025. Apparently, in reality, it will take place no earlier than 2027 and possibly later.
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