The agency’s inspector general warned November 15 that NASA’s ambitions to return people to the moon, which it had already set back until at least 2025, might be further postponed. NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) indicated in a report on the Artemis program that NASA’s timeframe for developing a crewed lunar lander under the Human Landing System initiative is considerably too ambitious when compared to other major program development efforts.

“When compared to other key NASA space flight programs, we deemed the HLS development timeframe to be implausible,” the assessment stated. “Specifically, space flight programs have taken an average of 8.5 years from award of contract to the very first operational flight during the last 15 years, and the HLS Program is seeking to do so in nearly half that time.”

According to the paper, NASA had been aware of the timetable challenges for some time, noting a February 2020 analysis by The Aerospace Corporation for the agency that determined that a lander was going not to be ready until mid-2026. “We estimate the HLS Program might suffer up to 3.4 years of setbacks before operational flights begin,” the OIG report found, based on average delays in other major NASA spaceflight programs. The landing, which was originally scheduled for late 2024, could now be pushed back to 2028.

Even if other elements, such as the Space Launch System as well as Orion, remain on track, this would have an impact on the overall Artemis plans. NASA officials “discussed the prospect of utilizing Artemis III to execute an extra fly-by of Moon instead of a lunar landing flight if necessary systems were not available in time,” according to the OIG report.

The analysis indicated that the very first SLS/Orion flight, Artemis 1, will likely deploy in the spring of the year 2022, “with a higher likelihood of deployment our evaluation summer 2022.” It was created when NASA was anticipating a late 2021 deployment for the mission. NASA confirmed on October 22 that the launch would take place no earlier than February 12, 2022.

NASA’s expense accounting for Artemis was also challenged in the report. It said that “NASA does not have a reliable estimate that unifies all Artemis expenditures across mission directorates.” NASA will spend $93 billion on the different aspects of Artemis from the fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2025, according to the OIG’s examination of budget data and predictions.

NASA estimates that a single Artemis mission will cost $4.1 billion. The Orion spacecraft will cost $1.3 billion, with $300 million coming from a barter deal with the European Space Agency for the service module. The SLS will cost $2.2 billion. The additional $568 million goes to ground systems.

NASA, on the other hand, rejected OIG proposals to establish an aggregate Artemis cost estimate and enhance per-mission cost accounting. In a statement contained in the study, Jim Free, NASA assistant administrator for the exploration systems development, noted, “NASA is currently following excellent practices and Agency regulation in giving cost estimates and pledges for Agency-ratified programs and projects.” He clarified that Artemis is a “campaign of the Agency’s efforts toward lunar exploration,” not a formal program.

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