NASA hints it may delay Artemis III lunar landing mission

NASA associate administrator Jim Free recently stated he remains "concerned" over the development of SpaceX's modified Starship lunar lander.
Chris Young
An artist's impression of the Starship lunar lander.
An artist's impression of the Starship lunar lander.


NASA associate administrator Jim Free has suggested that the mission profile of Artemis III could be altered amid concerns that SpaceX's Starship lunar lander won't be ready in time, a report from SpaceNews reveals.

Artemis III is scheduled to be the first lunar landing of the Artemis program and the first time humans have landed on the Moon since Apollo 17 in 1972. However, Free recently voiced his "concern" that SpaceX's massive Starship rocket may not be ready in time.

Now, during an August 9 press briefing at Kennedy Space Center, Free has added there's a possibility Artemis III may become "a different mission" altogether due to hardware delays.

Starship delays could alter Artemis III mission profile

In April 2021, NASA awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander that will carry astronauts to the surface of the lunar south pole for its Artemis III mission.

The first test flight of Starship ended in a manually triggered explosion and the second test flight may be delayed due to an ongoing environmental lawsuit levied against the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). However, both prototypes for the fully-stacked Starship system have recently undergone static fire engine tests, meaning they are both likely almost ready to fly.

During an August 8 press briefing at the Kennedy Space Center, Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development, said he was monitoring hardware delays for Artemis III, though the mission still has a formal launch date of December 2025.

Those hardware delays could drastically affect Artemis III's mission profile, Free explained. "We may end up flying a different mission if that's the case," he said. "If we have these big slips out, we've looked at if can we do other missions."

When asked what he meant by other missions, Free said NASA would have to be flexible based on the hardware it has available at the time. This could mean that Artemis III isn't a lunar landing mission at all, though Free didn't confirm this outright.

"One thing we learned from the International Space Station is to make sure we're flexible so we keep human spaceflight viable," he explained, adding that the ISS program had changed the assembly sequence of the station based on changed in available hardware.

"I think it’s incumbent upon us to do that," he said. "We're trying to look at all of the missions that we could fly to keep learning."

NASA still concerned over Starship deadline

During a joint meeting of the National Academies' Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board on June 9, Free said NASA had recently received an "updated schedule" for Starship development from SpaceX.

Though he didn't disclose the information in the update, he did express concerns about the development timeline of Starship and announced that Artemis III may well slip to 2026 due to Starship hardware delays.

Free added at the time that NASA would update its plans in the near future "after we have some time to digest it."

During the August 9 briefing, he said his views hadn't changed since then. "My concern is the same because they haven't launched."

"When we come up with a date, December of 2025 or whatever that date might be, we want to have confidence for our teams that we all have a realistic path to get there," he added.

When NASA awarded SpaceX the lunar lander contract in 2021, Blue Origin filed a lawsuit against NASA, citing issues with the selection process. Blue Origin failed in its attempt to sue NASA, though it was recently awarded a contract to build its own lunar lander for missions beyond Artemis III.

Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
Add Interesting Engineering to your Google News feed.
message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron
Job Board