back to article NASA's Artemis Moon missions take a rain check until 2025 and beyond

NASA's Moon mission launch dates have slid by about a year – Artemis II to September 2025 and Artemis III to September 2026. Artemis IV, the first mission to the Gateway lunar space station, remains scheduled for September 2028. NASA announced on Tuesday it had pushed back the dates for the first crewed test flight of the …

  1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    No need to rush

    I approve the stance of "it'll be ready when it's ready".

    We've had enough demonstrations of what happens when manglement doesn't listen to engineering. Space is hard enough as is, doing it right is the only way to go forward.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: No need to rush

      Agreed - although for unmanned tests etc, I'm quite happy for ready to be a "we've got some hardware, let's see what breaks"

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: No need to rush

      Very concerned by the line "our hardware is performing according to requirements". No - you did not expect the charred heat shield to flake. It has now flaked. Must I recall (again) the minority report of a certain R Feynman?

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: No need to rush

        "our hardware is performing according to requirements", but we can't guarantee that it will continue to do, because we don't understand some of the behaviour we're seeing.

        His jug of water demonstration was particularly powerful for many.

    3. druck Silver badge

      Re: No need to rush

      While I appreciate the need for safety, if today's NASA was around back when JFK was making his speech it would a little different:-

      "We choose to go to the Moon in this decade century millennium at some point and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard safe."

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Let SpaceX do it!

    As Reuters documented pretty well, at SpaceX "Safety is job none."

    https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/spacex-musk-safety/

  3. Zibob Bronze badge

    They don't have a clue

    Or are not talking to each other.

    "I will say it will roughly be ten-ish, that would be my rough guess right now, but it could be lower depending on how well the first flight tests go – or it could be a little bit higher," approximated Jensen.

    This is information that had to be pushed for an answer by a YouTuber giving a talk to the Artemis engineers. Destin of Smarter Every Day was asked to talk to them. One of the points he raised is that they didn't know how many refueling trips it would take. Joking that initially it was 4 trips, then 8, then potentially 12 or more. This was then 1 year out from launch! And their own NASA engineers didn't know.

    Only after this did they actually look at how many it will take and the answer is a minimum of 12 all going perfectly, possibly 15 with losses... 12 is more than 11 you might note, and that the spokes person for this from.SpaceX does not know that calculation took place is worrying.

    They are either willfully unaware, or they do not talk to each other. Which is not a good look on top of all.of this.

    This is also for a single trip, 12 to 15 launches, for one trip. Extrapolated out to Artemis IV that's 36 launches minimum, more likely 45 or more and that's assuming zero are lost completely,

    Video for those interested. Its an hour long. Its light hearted mostly but it really put it into view how not ready we are for this.

    https://youtu.be/OoJsPvmFixU?si=xGVfkDB0Cpo1zmBl

    1. Andy 73 Silver badge

      Re: They don't have a clue

      In a previous comment section for the last Artemis update, I was downvoted for suggesting that this whole programme is a mess, and SpaceX just going along with it - hang the consequences.

      It seems that for some, SpaceX can do no wrong...

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: They don't have a clue

        "It seems that for some, SpaceX can do no wrong..."

        They can - as their HR fiascos clearly show.

        When it comes to rocket engineering, they do seem to produce results.

        Even when they get something wrong ("We think the fondag will survive one launch") they work to repair the damage and improve systems far faster than most people would guess.

        Yes, I know they nearly went under with the F1, but the F9 has given them a ridiculous share of the market (80% of mass to orbit in 2023, after ~50% in 2022Q4), and they are applying many of the same lessons to SS/SH.

        They really don't look all that far away from orbit... reentry is clearly an unknown at this point, but that's not technically required for Artemis - though they'll clearly be wanting to emulate their F9 success.

        1. Zolko Silver badge

          Re: They don't have a clue

          But a HUGE part of that mass to orbit they transported was their own StarLink satellites, so you can't really talk about "market-share ". I'd like to see those figures for launches excluding StarLink (and other internal SpaceX projects). Just curious

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: They don't have a clue

            Yes lots of it was...

            The best estimate I've found is ~50%

            So if you subtract all of that that from SpaceX (which is a little unfair), then they end up with 30% of the global mass to orbit.

            Starlink becomes number 1 with 50%, SpaceX (other) is number 2 with 30%.

            It's a little hard to put together the rest, I keep getting quarterly results and lack the time/inclination to sum them all.

            But looking at Q3 - CASC lifted 25 tons, SpaceX lifted 381 tons, out of a total of ~450 tons

            Even if 225 tons (50%) was starlink, SpaceX (other) still has 150+ tons of commercial lift, substantially more than CASC (and we ought to discount their internal programs as well?)

            Q3 might not be representative...

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: They don't have a clue

          "reentry is clearly an unknown at this point, but that's not technically required for Artemis"

          It might be financially required though. All those re-fuelling launches don't really want to be "one shots" or SpaceX won't be able to deliver within the budget allocated by NASA. On the other hand, it's Artemis, so it seems almost unlimited pork barrelling is allowed.

          1. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: They don't have a clue

            Then spaceX make a loss... that's not NASA's problem.

            I don't think reentry is going to be impossible though, it's just the biggest remaining "completely untested" thing.

            1. Andy 73 Silver badge

              Re: They don't have a clue

              Giving the scale of the redesigns between the Starship test launches, I'd struggle to claim anything they currently have is "tested" in any useful sense of the word.

    2. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: They don't have a clue

      It's a significant number of launches, but it's also not unreasonable.

      The whole design ethos of the SS/SH stack has been rapid reuse. Heck they want to literally land the booster on the launch pad so it's ready to go* again a few minutes after launch.

      Have a look at the F9 recovery success - the last time they failed to land a booster was back in February 2021 (flight 108), and other than two flights with no attempt made we're past flight 288 with a 100% record, that's 180 F9 flight as well as a handful of FH flights with successful landings of the side boosters (one flight had no attempt, and none of them tried the land the core).

      I'm sure SS/SH will take a few losses early on, but I wouldn't bet on many failures after they start launching regularly.

      * And by 'go' I mean: be restacked and then refuelled, not ready to launch in a few minutes.

      1. Zibob Bronze badge

        Re: They don't have a clue

        Yeah that's true for space X rockets.

        From the way the video described it, its not using SpaceX for refueling, they are using the Space Launch System. All non reusable.

        I could be wrong but that's what was talked about.

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: They don't have a clue

          If you look at the graphic at 29:57 in Destin's video it's pretty clear that it's starship launches all the way down.

          I'm pretty sure that the only refueling is for the starship lander, which will all be starship tankers.

          Orion and SLS are one shot disposable devices.

          1. Zibob Bronze badge

            Re: They don't have a clue

            Ah okay. That's not as bad.

            Still worryingly interesting that the math has been done though and the people with the rockets in question seem still not to be aware of the results. Unless its that they know but can't say the total number for fear of public ridicule.

            1. Mishak Silver badge

              Re: They don't have a clue

              I would imagine that part of the uncertainty is down to the Raptor engines still being development articles - they are still pushing the chamber pressures higher, which increases the overall efficiency (and impacts payload to orbit). Similarly, there is a lot of effort going into weight reduction that will affect payload capability.

              1. Zibob Bronze badge

                Re: They don't have a clue

                That all makes sense, but it seemed, or at least seemed, to be on a pretty short time frame to figure all this out and have it ready.

                While they say safety is the cause of the delay, I have my own feelings it may be that part and or the engineering and calculations behind them are just not ready for the full thing yet.

                Its good they are taking the time to.do.it right, but their talking like its a sure thing and they have it worked out. I always get worried when engineers run on what amounts to "trust me bro" that comes undone when basic questions are asked, like how?

                1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

                  Re: Deadlines

                  There are lies, damned lies and rocket launch schedules.

                  No-one with a clue believed there would be humans back on the Moon in 2024 when Artemis was proposed. A popular guess is 2027. Mine is 2028. Even Jim Free showed a lack of confidence in the current September 2026 launch. When asked if the project would be pushed back again he did not say: "No, the date is set in stone and I bet my job/reputation/house on that."

                  1. Zolko Silver badge

                    Re: Deadlines

                    My guess is: not at all. They'll not make it, as they don't have enough SLS launches available : maximum 5 if everything goes well. Because SLS is using former Space Shuttle engines (plus 6 new ones IF they manage to build them again). One is already consumed (Artemis I).

                    The next man on the Moon will probably be a Chinese woman.

                    1. John Robson Silver badge

                      Re: Deadlines

                      There are a couple of routes to the moon.

                      If we assume SpaceX manage to get SS/SH working... and that's not an unreasonable assumption, even if the timescale is still under question, then even without SLS the US could still have lunar capability.

                      Launch (and refuel) the Lunar Lander SS.

                      Launch a Dragon, rendezvous and dock with the HLS.

                      Take both craft to lunar orbit.

                      Drop the Dragon off (potentially with a little extra cargo, see later) in orbit.

                      Land, do science, return to the Dragon.

                      This is where we need a little extra deltaV, probably taking some of the HLS payload capacity for a dragon TEI stage - but the dragon was originally designed for a Lunar return, so kick it back into a return trajectory, leaving HLS in LLO as a potential bonus item for later.

                      As for a Chinese *woman* being next... I'm not sure they're that fussed about getting that particular first, so it's probably a 50/50 shot (assuming that the US don't get there in a reasonable time frame)

    3. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: You don't have a clue

      SpaceX's original proposal included up to twelve retanking flights and NASA accepted it a reasonable - with the bonus that it is a fixed price contract and any extra flights would be at SpaceX's expense. (SpaceX's proposal was by far the most detailed of the three.) The performance of next year's Starship is unknown because it keeps on improving. Raptor 1 engines were 1.81MN of thrust. Raptor 2's were 2.53MN. Raptor 3's are 2.64MN. Hot staging adds about 10% extra payload.

      Someone at NASA came up with 19 retanking flights. Presumably they used old Starship performance data. The payload user guide gave conservative figures and has not been updated. Likewise boil-off figures are currently unknown so a large number can be selected without risk that anyone can prove otherwise. The 19 figure came out at about the same time as it became clear to some of the public that reusing components from the Artemis I Orion on Artemis II would push Artemis I delays onto Artemis II beyond even the delays from SLS. 19 retanking flights was a good distraction.

      The parts of NASA concerned with HLS do not give a damn how many flights are required. It is not their problem. Announcing the final number of required flights now would be just as daft as promising that the long pole for Artemis III will not be SLS/Orion. It could be Starship, the space suits, SLS/Orion or something else. One of the interesting figures is that Starship is required to be able to hang around near the Moon for up to 100 days to accommodate delays to the SLS/Orion launch.

      You have convinced me that Destin of Smarter Every Day has not put much effort into understanding which issues matter. SpaceX has strong commercial incentives to making Starship extremely performant that dwarf their share of Artemis. There are plenty of issues that will delay Artemis III. I think the biggest is that the FAA is not adequately staffed and resourced to keep up with licensing launches from all the new space companies. They were OK with one company that made changes when there was no other choice. They have stepped up considerably but cannot deal with multiple companies making many changes on each launch.

      1. phuzz Silver badge

        Re: You don't have a clue

        The number of refuels required depends on the efficiency of the Raptor engines, not how much thrust they produce. I'm sure the efficiency has been increasing, but probably not linearly in-line with the thrust produced. And it doesn't just depend on the engines. If the design of Starship has to change to add (eg) one kilo of extra self-destruct equipment, that's a kilo of fuel they won't be able to carry (on every single trip). Currently the design of Starship is very much in flux, let alone the currently non-existent lunar variant.

        It's just too early to say how many refuelling trips will be necessary right now.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: You don't have a clue

          I am glad we agree that It is too early to say how many refuelling trips will be necessary.

          Let's test your efficiency claim by replacing the raptors on the booster with Hall thrusters. That can easily improve efficiency (effective exhaust velocity) by a factor of ten - at the expense of trashing the thrust to weight. Such a rocket would never lift the weight of its engines off the pad let alone the propellant and tanks.

          My thrust figure is a poor choice for the middle of the mission where effective exhaust velocity has more value. The figure we want is $/kg to the required orbit. That is not something I could find with a quick wikipedia search and even if I could it would be based on so many controversial assumptions that it would be useless.

          The important bit is all the numbers are changing while payload to orbit is improving.

        2. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: You don't have a clue

          Not jsut the efficiency - if the thrust increases then they can stretch the stack (which they are already planning to do) and therefore carry both more fuel and more "payload" fuel.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: You don't have a clue

        "They have stepped up considerably but cannot deal with multiple companies making many changes on each launch."

        I believe the El Reg SPG LOHAN flight is still awaiting clearance :-)

        (RIP Lester, never forgotten, still drinking from my LOHAN engraved glass tankard)

  4. DS999 Silver badge

    I'm gonna say it now

    My bet is that whoever wins the next presidential election will not be in office when the US reaches the moon again (or for the first time if you are a conspiracy nut)

    We don't have the national resolve to push very hard on this, and the ongoing budget fiascos are not going to be helping. There's a strong anti science slant on the right to go along with their general anti government slant, and they'd be happy to defund NASA or at least reduce its resources and say that if the US wants to go to the moon again a private company should do it. I think if it comes down to that those on the left would be willing to trade reduced funding for NASA in exchange for avoiding/minimizing cuts in stuff they care about more.

    The only way this will change is when a Chinese astronaut walks on the moon.

    1. Bilby

      Re: I'm gonna say it now

      No Chinese astronaut will ever walk on the Moon.

      (Any Chinese moonwalking will be done by a taikonaut).

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: I'm gonna say it now

        I knew there was some term for them but was in too much of a hurry to bother looking it up when I posted. I figured everyone would know exactly what I meant, and some pedant would correct my oversight.

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      I agree with your timeline for different reasons

      One of the few thing Republicans and Democrats can agree on is funding SLS whenever Boeing whistles and more generously than NASA asks for in their budget request. The goal is to spend as much money as possible before the majority of tax payers realise they are getting fleeced. 2022 was a bad year for SLS as they had to actually demonstrate some utility - and risk a big public failure. That time is gradually approaching again with three possibilities:

      Success: Keep funding cost plus SLS but trickle fund adjacent firm fixed price contracts to create as much delay as the public will accept.

      Loss of mission: two year delay because that is how long it takes to build a new SLS. Boeing will enjoy the extra two years of funding without having to do much more R&D.

      Loss of crew: might actually be enough to end SLS,

      LOC would be as bad as an imminent threat of China or SpaceX landing people on the Moon. Both possibilities invalidate the entire purpose of Artemis: funding Boeing. A new reason to fund Boeing would be required. Lack of a good reason is what forces progress on Artemis. Public support has always been irrelevant. Only mass focused public outrage would make a difference. On top of that, politicians want to take credit for a Moon landing. They cannot do that effectively if SpaceX do it without NASA.

      1. DS999 Silver badge

        Re: I agree with your timeline for different reasons

        Because projects like that are spread around the majority of congressional districts, making it hard to vote "no". Your opponent will say "Flocke Kroes voted against the SLS, costing thousands of high paying jobs in this district" and run that ad 24x7. The military industrial complex figured this out in the 60s and it has been used for all major defense programs since, and everything from NASA to Biden's infrastructure jobs bill has used similar tactics (that's why all the republicans who voted against it are promoting the stuff it does when they go back to their home districts without mentioning how that work and those jobs came to be)

  5. ldo

    Time To Admit SLS Is A Failure

    The Artemis concept is turning out to be horrendously expensive. The idea of reusing the Space Shuttle Main Engine design was supposedly about saving money (as opposed to be about saving the jobs of those who made them), but it turned out to be the wrong idea.

    There may very well be one manned Artemis landing on the moon, but even that’s looking pretty iffy. And it seems unlikely there will be a second one.

  6. Sceptic Tank Silver badge
    Trollface

    Artemissed the deadline.

  7. dhdallas

    Defund NASA

    The heat shield was "liberated". I'm not sure that the crew of the Columbia felt liberated in the last moment of their lives! NASA is the Boeing of the space industry. Cost overruns, poor quality control, and failures costing human lives. At this moment the Peregrine moon lander has a fuel leak and instead of landing on the moon, will soon cartwheel off into outer space. Stop wasting our tax dollars on NASA when private companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, axiom and more have already proved their expertise in space flight & without catastrophic failures ending in loss of life. Let them develop the technology and pay for their services.

  8. StrangerHereMyself Silver badge

    Tentative

    These dates are all tentative because I'm pretty sure the HLS landing with Starship will be delayed beyond 2026.

    It would be nothing short of a miracle if SpaceX can get Starship more or less operational by the end of this year. And NASA will want absolute certainty that its astronauts will not be killed during a Moon landing so that would imply at least two or three unmanned test landings before humans will be allowed on board. Even though the transport is provided by a commercial provider NASA still sees these flights as something of national importance and failure is therefore not an option.

  9. A Haeretic

    Regolith?

    Is "Regolith", Queen Lilith?

  10. Zuagroasta

    It must be remembered that in Nov 1968 no hardware had reached lunar orbit and that Apolllo 8 had to carry a lot of water to orbit bc the LM wasn't ready yet. There's enough time to keep Artemis 3 in the calendar as is.

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