Friday, February 23

Artemis 3 Delay Concerns: NASA Worried About Starship Problems

NASA is expressing concerns about potential delays in the highly anticipated Artemis 3 mission due to issues with SpaceX’s Starship vehicle. The agency is worried that the lunar lander version of the Starship may not be ready in time.

During a joint meeting on June 7, Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, shared the possibility of a delay in the Artemis 3 timeline. This mission holds significant importance as it marks the return of humans to the moon after more than 50 years. The original target of December 2025 might need to be pushed back to 2026.

The main concern revolves around the number of launches required for SpaceX to prepare the Starship for Artemis 3. Each mission involves launching the Starship lander itself, along with several additional “tanker” Starships to fuel the lander in Earth orbit before it travels to the moon. Prior to Artemis 3, SpaceX needs to perform an uncrewed lunar landing and demonstrate cryogenic fluid transfer in Earth orbit.

Jim Free highlighted the magnitude of these launch requirements, raising doubts about meeting the December 2025 deadline for Artemis 3. While he mentioned “difficulties” faced by SpaceX, specific details were not provided. Currently, the Starship/Super Heavy launch vehicle is grounded following engine failures during its initial integrated launch on April 20. The vehicle was destroyed shortly after liftoff.

NASA is actively involved in investigating the launch incident, with Free recently discussing the matter with a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) official. Although the FAA is working on SpaceX’s launch license for the next mission, Free emphasized the comprehensive perspective required for a successful human lunar landing. However, no public updates have been provided by the FAA or SpaceX regarding the investigation or the clearance for future launch attempts.

Regarding the development of the lunar lander version of Starship, Free revealed that a critical design review has been postponed until after SpaceX demonstrates cryogenic refueling in Earth orbit. NASA has received an updated schedule from SpaceX, but the specific details are currently under review.

In conclusion, Free expressed confidence in SpaceX’s ability to ultimately deliver the Starship lander for Artemis 3. It is important to note that NASA’s fixed-price contract protects them from additional costs. However, if SpaceX fails to meet the agreed-upon timeline, the firm fixed price contract will not benefit NASA other than avoiding additional expenses.