NASA ‘To Push Back Artemis Moon Missions’

NASA reportedly preparing to delay Artemis missions to Moon as private contractors encounter mounting technical problems

NASA may announce as early as Tuesday that it is delaying the next few missions to the Moon due to mounting technical hurdles being encountered by the private companies it is relying on under the Artemis programme.

Reuters said the agency may be about to announce the revised plans after tracking progress with contractors over a period of several months.

The expected news follows the troubled launch on Monday of an experimental lunar lander named Peregrine that forms part of NASA’s approach of using private companies as it builds toward sending humans back to the Moon.

The lander was built by Astrobotic Technology of Pittsburgh and launched into space atop a new rocket design named Vulcan.

nasa Concept image of the Peregrine lander. Image credit: Astrobotic space moon
Concept image of the Peregrine lander. Image credit: Astrobotic

Commercial contractors

While the launch went as planned, the lander’s propulsion system encountered a problem that depleted its propellant and most likely means it will not be able to reach the Moon.

“We are currently assessing what alternative mission profiles may be feasible at this time,” Astrobotic said in a statement.

The lander is part of a NASA programme called Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) that was announced in 2018 as part of its preparations for sending humans back to the Moon for the first time since the last Apollo mission in 1972.

NASA is now likely to push back its second Artemis mission beyond the planned late-2024 target after issues were discovered with the batteries in the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew capsule, Reuters said.

Image credit: NASA
Orion capsule. Image credit: NASA

Mission delays

The mission would have been the first with humans aboard following an uncrewed launch atop NASA’s Space Launch System in a 2022 test.

Artemis 3, planned as the first to take humans to the moon in late 2025 using SpaceX’s Starship landing system, is also likely to be pushed back as the firm is taking longer than expected to reach milestones.

The first crewed landing may be pushed back from the third to the fourth Artemis mission in order to give SpaceX and other contractors more practice in such landings, Reuters reported.

Artemis is using the Space Launch System, led by Boeing and Northrop Grumman, to lift humans into space, Lockheed’s Orion capsule to take them to the Moon and SpaceX’s Starship to ferry them to and from the lunar surface.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is also developoing a crewed lander for later missions.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 9:40 a.m. PST on Sunday, 11 December, after a 25.5 day mission to the Moon. Image credit: NASA