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In a widely anticipated teleconference, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson unsurprisingly extended the dates for the space agency’s first two crewed missions to the Moon since the Apollo program. NASA’s Artemis program launched its first successful mission in 2022, and Artemis 2 was initially planned to take to the skies this year by flying a crew around the Moon.
Artemis 3 was scheduled to take off a year later and work in tandem with SpaceX’s Starship rocket. Now, NASA has delayed Artemis 2 and 3 by a year. However, the Artemis 4 mission is on track for a launch no earlier than September 2028, and the NASA Administrator explained that the delay was to allow mission teams to work on safety goals.
SpaceX Is Targeting January For Becoming Hardware Ready For Starship Flight Test 3
Along with Administrator Nelson, other NASA officials present during the teleconference also shared details about the progress of the Artemis program. According to NASA’s Amit Kshatriya, the primary reason behind the delay to the Artemis 2 mission from 2024 to 2025 is safety. Some design concerns that NASA discovered on the Orion spacecraft’s valves as well as unexpected behavior by the heatshield, have made the agency recaliberate its Artemis 2 and Artemis 3 launch timelines.
NASA’s Associate Administrator Jim Free added that 2024 will be a year of testing and development for the space agency as it works on new spacesuits, SpaceX’s Starship rocket tests and other areas requiring continuous risk minimization, particularly regarding hardware availability and understanding.
Shifting to SpaceX, its Starship rocket is an integral part of the timely completion of the Artemis program. Added to the call as part of some last-minute changes, the firm’s Jessica Jensen stated that depending on the success of flight tests, the number of Starship launches needed to set up a propellant depot could fall below ten. In-orbit refueling is a crucial aspect of SpaceX’s Starship architecture, and it has also been highlighted as a key technological demonstration requirement for the Artemis program.
When asked about SpaceX’s Starship milestone, she shared that SpaceX wants to test propellant transfer this year and expand the tests next year. The SpaceX executive added that before the Artemis 3 mission, SpaceX will also try to land Starship on the Moon and test ascent capabilities as part of an uncrewed lunar mission.
SpaceX ended 2023 with a bang after it conducted the second Starship test flight months after the first attempt. For the third test flight, the timeline has shortened as initially expected. Jensen outlined that SpaceX plans to be hardware-ready for Starship test flight three by the end of this month and complete its work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for the launch license in February.
SpaceX has static-fired both the ship and the booster, and the third test will not seek to demonstrate an on orbit fuel to fuel transfer shared the official. However, according to her, SpaceX might test transfer propellant between Starship’s header and main tanks as part of an on-orbit cryogenic propellant transfer test.
The SpaceX representative concluded the call by sharing that her firm “needs” the propellant transfer capability to work, and it is willing to conduct as many tests as possible to make it work. She added that SpaceX has currently been investing in its production facilities, and they will help it to develop the capacity for successive flight tests that are not limited by hardware or inventory constraints.
As for the Orion heatshield surprise, only a small area was affected by the heatshield material coming off the ship. A Lockheed representative on call explained that her firm did not know the cause of the aberration, and there was a healthy margin of untouched heatshield that was sufficient to ensure that any crew members on board would remain unharmed.
Despite the delay to the Artemis missions, Administrator Nelson remained confident that he does not expect China to overtake the U.S. when it comes to landing humans on the Moon this millennium.