back to article Clock is ticking for NASA to fix bucket of issues before next Artemis mission

A report from the NASA Office of Inspector General (OIG) provides new insight into the heat shield and power problems that bedeviled its Orion capsule in the uncrewed Artemis I mission and delayed the agency's first crewed mission to the Moon in more than half a century. Artemis I was finally launched as 2022 came to a close …

  1. SnailFerrous

    ""uncommanded power disruption" during the mission. The latter, according to the OIG, "are similar to a circuit breaker tripping in a home's electrical panel."

    NASA wasn't expecting either scenario but has determined that radiation was the root cause of the power disruption. A hardware fix won't be ready in time for Artemis II, but the flight software has been tweaked, and the Orion team trained to deal with it."

    Let me guess. Have you tried turning it off and on again?

    1. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

      I think it's more trying to stop it doing that itself...

      1. spireite Silver badge


        Has Artemis got AI?

        I'm afraid I can't do that HAL....

  2. Mishak Silver badge

    it was not known that the elevator 'blast doors' were not in fact blast doors

    Did no one check for delivery against requirements, or was the requirement missing?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: it was not known that the elevator 'blast doors' were not in fact blast doors

      Surely someone must have opened the fibreglass door one day and thought "That's a bit flimsy to be near the flamey end of a rocket."

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: it was not known that the elevator 'blast doors' were not in fact blast doors

        Everyone thought they were the temporary ones and someone else was responsible for arranging the install of the proper ones. But he was on holiday that week.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: it was not known that the elevator 'blast doors' were not in fact blast doors

          Was it Boeing in charge of putting a plug door there?

    2. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      Re: it was not known that the elevator 'blast doors' were not in fact blast doors

      Powerpoint presentations never go into nonsense like that.

  3. John Robson Silver badge

    Could have been worse

    Well yes, it could have blown up on the pad.

    Though had superheavy actually done that I still suspect SpaceX would have got their pad up and running again in less time than NASA took to fix the lift.

    1. NickHolland

      Re: Could have been worse

      heck, SpaceX could have rebuilt it faster than NASA would pick a contractor to submit a bid fix it.

      And of course ultimately, it will be the same contractor that made the error in the first place...because, lowest bidder!

      (which isn't necessarily NASA's fault -- they have rules they have to work within)

  4. Anonymous Custard Silver badge

    Hold on...

    ...and delayed the agency's first crewed mission to the Moon in more than half a century.

    I misread that first time around, specifically missed the crucial "in". Got me thinking that I knew it was delayed, but I didn't think by that much!

    Is it beer o'clock yet?

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Hold on...

      Not alone, AC. Not alone. I read it as "by more than half a century". Suspect some kind of mental Freudian slip. Can't imagine why :p

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Hold on...

      Who says it won't be? All we know is that it hasn't been delayed by half a century, so far.

  5. thexfile

    Could you stop using duct tape?

    Duct Tape will burn up.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Then use the old-fashioned duck tape. Although with cryogenics around, it may get brittle and quack.

  6. cdilla

    Saw this a while back. I hope the NASA engineers took on board everything he said.

    1. that one in the corner Silver badge

      I hope so too. The comparison of number of launches is scary.

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re-assurance for number of launches

        On average, Falcon 9's launch about three times per week. SpaceX are applying their experience with Falcon so that Starship will be nothing like as limited. We can see some of what they are planning from thousands of miles away: land the booster on the launch platform so it is ready to go again promptly and build a rocket garden full of second stages because the time taken to get a second stage back is limited by the slow rotation of the Earth. Next comes the cost of a large number of launches: NASA doesn't care. They pay the same whether it takes 5 or 50 tanker launches. It is SpaceX's problem. Launching an extra Falcon 9 costs SpaceX about $20M. The equivalent for Starship is currently unknown but guesses range from $2M to $10M. Taking the highest cost and multiplying it by a large number of tanker launches (20) and then multiply by the three HLS landings in the contract only gets you to 20% of the contract value. The number of tanker launches does change every few months. So does the lifting capacity of Starship. Falcon 9 payload to LEO has more than doubled since the first version. It is reasonable to expect the same or better from Starship.

        Much of what gets Destin worked up on this issue comes from a comparison of cultures. Starship HLS is a firm fixed price contract. SpaceX has the freedom and incentive to find the most cost effective solution. They will do this by experiment and iteration because they need cheap rapid launch for their own business needs. SLS is cost plus. It was designed and simulated to death before being built. Any possible change has to justify the enormous cost Boeing will charge to implement it. At best, SLS will launch once every two years and each launch will cost over $4B. There are multiple huge incentives against experimenting to reduce costs.

        While I am here I will mention Destin's other biggest issues. Artemis 3 launch date is currently no earlier than September 2026. It has been delayed before and it will be again. It might look like people are taking that launch date seriously when they pour and stack the solid rocket boosters. Once poured SRB segments have a (theoretically) limited life span. Delays for Artemis I set a new experimental limit. Once stacked SRB's are expected to last a year. When that time was exceeded for Artemis I the SRB's were inspected regularly and found to be still usable. The OIG points out that next time US tax payers might not be so lucky. The entire rocket would need to be de-stacked and the SRB's allocated to the next mission would be brought forward. Boeing would invoice for an extra pair of SRBs, NASA would take the bill to congress who would be waiting with a cheque ready - remember this is a preferred contractor so NASA will not have to piss and whine like they did to get funding for space suits that will work on the Moon.

        Next up Destin advocates for the minimum simple solution to achieve the mission. Different groups have different ideas about what the mission is. I think Destin is going for flags and footprint 2. That matches his Apollo 6, Artemis 0 score card. Congresses score card is more like Apollo $25B, SLS $55B so far showing that by their mission criteria SLS is already a winner. For space enthusiasts a more common goal would be to improve technology to the point where a regular shuttle service to a Moon base becomes affordable.

        Finally Destin points at the size of the steps between Artemis missions:

        1) Orion without life support goes around the Moon and comes back.

        2) Orion with a crew goes around the Moon and comes back.

        3) Starship launches a propellant depot then N x tanker launches to fill it then an HLS that fills up from the tanker, goes to NRHO and waits for up to three months for an SLS to deliver an Orion with crew. Crew transfers to the HLS, takes a return trip to the Moon then returns to Earth in the Orion.

        Destin's talk predates the OIG report on Artemis 1. Artemis 1 had sufficient issues that progressing straight to 2 is now more controversial. He really had an issue with the huge leap from 2 to 3. What the talk does not show is the steps inside the HLS contract. HLS has to get through several milestones (pay days) including an uncrewed landing on the Moon before getting to Artemis 3. Although not in the original contract, SpaceX will also try an uncrewed ascent from the Moon. There is now talk about testing the Orion+Starship docking in LEO. It would be cool if that talk was caused by Destin's video. More likely it comes from a "What if we cannot fix Orion's heat shield soon? We got all this money we have to spend on SLS. How can we get the best value from spending it?"

        1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

          Re: Re-assurance for number of launches

          >. It is SpaceX's problem. Launching an extra Falcon 9 costs SpaceX about $20M.

          Yeh very easy to launch for $20M when the US tax payer gives you billions in research grants and more.

          15B in over priced contracts.

          SpaceX is, after all, primarily a government contractor, racking up $15.3 billion in awarded contracts since 2003, according to US government records. Its most important businesses are launching astronauts and scientific missions for NASA, and flying satellites for the US military.

          > Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies

          Yeh it only costs $20M... is it really only $20M when Elon got $5b in gifts from the gov ?

    2. Doctor Evil

      Hey, thanks for that link! It was an hour of my life well-spent and it beat the pants off of any TED talk I've ever viewed!

    3. Oneman2Many

      While there are some valid points, the video does point out it doesn't have access to a lot of information. I expect there are parts where they aee further along that published and parts they are behind.

  7. that one in the corner Silver badge

    Have to carefully manage the Huawei hate

    Apollo was funded and pushed to succeed purely as a political stunt to beat the commie Ruskies, without going all out and deliberately heating up the Cold War.

    Although it is getting close, the current anti-China posturing has to be very carefully managed: we need to get the US into the correct "beat the commie Chinese" attitude and then into Space Race II but without getting into "beat their faces into the ground" territory.

    We currently don't have anything that is both as physically safe and as startling as Sputnik was, to put the proper wind up Joe Public and John Politician: paranoia about "them listening in to all our phone calls" isn't quite the right push (even though it is really all just about the fact that "they" mustn't get to beat "us" at our own game).

    Perhaps if anyone has the right contacts, you could drop a copy of Arthur C. Clarke's "Watch This Space" onto the desk of Huawei's chief of marketing: if we see a Red Moon Rising then the Right Stuff will Rise to The Lunar Surface once again, if only to sweep it clean.

    It also needs the right sort of push, a bit of "we actually want to see this done" from the politicos, to get the designs a bit closer to "what do we actually need to get this to work" and a little less "we'll make the biggest thing possible right from the start, how hard can in-space refuelling be anyway!".

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Have to carefully manage the Huawei hate

      Huawei hate has not been the driving force behind the last $55B SLS+Orion funding. The key driver was cancellation of the Constellation program. Constellation was a program to send tax payers' money through a preferred set of contractors to re-election campaign funds. There was also a large amount of talk about jobs in every state to build rockets. Constellation was created to fill the gap in campaign financing created by the termination of the space shuttle.

      SLS+Orion were doing an excellent job of replacing Constellation until Falcon and Dragon threatened to de-rail the gravy train by actually launching stuff and people cheaply. To keep the funding Boeing had to make good on a little of the talk. This highlighted a key problem with SLS: it cannot send Orion to Low Lunar Orbit. SLS needed a place to go so the Lunar Gateway got funded along with the obsolete booster life extension, Exploration Upper Stage and a new Mobile Launcher to carry them. These contracts ticked two major boxes. They are expensive and long term but miss a key feature - a pretext to justify their existence to tax payers. Artemis Moon landings got funded to supply a range of pretexts that cover multiple market segments: doing some real science instead of just flags and footprints, DEI and beating the Russians Chinese.

      If the Chinese land humans of the Moon tomorrow or cancel their entire space program that will make no difference to Artemis because election campaigns still need funding. This can be seen from Artemis funding priorities. Artemis lacked a human landing system and space suits suitable for the Moon. The HLS contract was put up for bids and Blue Origin submitted an ideal proposal: it divided the work between major established contractors all over the US, would blow past the delivery date by several years, needed a big upgrade to do more than flags and footprints and the initial cost was more than double what NASA could afford. NASA caused a shit storm by selecting SpaceX instead. Although SpaceX has a history of delivering late they have an unfortunate reputation for delivering at all and within a fixed budget. Next up Artemis needed suits in a hurry and congress stepped up by fixing the most pressing problem: funding Blue Origin to provide an alternative HLS.

      There is a good reason for Starship's size. The next step down in cost to orbit comes from re-using stage 2. During re-entry the place heat is generated moves away from the vehicle in proportion to its radius. Much of the heat just blows straight past Starship without reaching the heat shield. Reducing the size means the heat shield must survive a higher temperature. The other reason for going big has been demonstrated by all the small launch startups. Some costs (like licensing, communications and the control center) do not scale with size. Most of the small launch startups have scrapped their prototypes and switched to a medium sized rocket.

    2. ridley

      Re: Have to carefully manage the Huawei hate

      It's not the same at all.

      In the 60's the west's economy in no way was dependent in the soviet economy.

      Today the west is almost completely reliant in China's economy, the west cannot afford to antagonise the Chinese, and they know it.

  8. BPontius


    NASA is a broken, obsolete organization that needs to be eliminated. They proved over and over during the Shuttle program that they had the mindset that the shuttle was safe and reliable, seeing the O-ring burn throughs as harmless. Then the external tank debris as "...well it never hurt us before", ignoring glaring and basic safety protocol violations and shutting down engineers when it interfered with their launch schedule. The SLS program will fall victim to the same false sense of safe and reliable space flight, costing untold number of lives.

    If a supposedly technically advanced organization responsible for human space cannot spot the deference between fiberglass elevator doors and hardened blast doors, that to me is a big red flag.

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Broken

      NASA are legally required to spend billions on SLS. That means employing a bunch of people to work on it. Other projects attract the most committed to doing something constructive.

      NASA does plenty of stuff that is not SLS and does it well.

      1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        Re: Broken

        LIke ?

        THeir funding on super-sonic private jets ?

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          Re: Like

          Commercial resupply services. Commercial Crew, new spacecraft technology research, a bunch of Earth observation satellites, Van Allen Probes, studying the sun, the Moon, Mars, asteroids, Jupiter, Vesta and Ceres, Pluto, some space telescopes and more.

          On the other hand it looks like some NASA employees work for Boeing.

  9. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

    Isnt this communist or socialist for the government to run a program like this ?

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      For communism the state owns the means of production. NASA contracts out most of its budget to industry that is not owned by the government. There is a some evidence that this is the opposite of communism: industry owning (or at least renting) the government. I think it more of a self-licking ice cream cone.

      1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        Then WHY is NASA funding research into super sonic jets ?

        1. Richard 12 Silver badge

          Because Congress' owners want them?

          That would be consistent. Whether it's true is unknown.

          Though there's also military applications. For example, Concorde had a supersonic range far, far greater than any military jet.

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