NEW ORLEANS — NASA is postponing the next two Artemis missions, including the first crewed landing on the moon, by nearly a year to address technical issues that could affect the safety of the astronauts on board.
During a Jan. 9 media teleconference, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced that Artemis 2, the first crewed mission that will send four astronauts around the moon, had been pushed back from the end of 2024 to no earlier than September 2025. Artemis 3, the first crewed landing, was in turn delayed from late 2025 to no earlier than September 2026.
“Safety is our top priority,” Nelson said. “To give Artemis teams more time to work through the challenges with first-time developments, operations and integration, we’re going to give more time on Artemis 2 and 3.”
Three specific issues drove the delay in Artemis 2, said Amit Kshatriya, NASA deputy associate administrator for the Moon to Mars Program. One was unexpected erosion of material on the Orion capsule’s heat shield during reentry on Artemis 1 in December 2022, which the agency had previously reported. He said the agency was making good progress on understanding what caused that erosion and expected to find a root cause by the spring, but needed more time to synthesize the data and update models before flying again.
A second issue involves components for the capsule’s life support system. Inspections of hardware delivered for the spacecraft that will fly the Artemis 3 mission found failures in circuitry that drives valves. “When we examined it, we recognized there was a design flaw in that circuit,” he said. “Those valve electronics affect many parts of the life support system on the spacecraft,” including systems that remove carbon dioxide.
NASA has decided to replace those electronics, including on the Orion flying Artemis 2, even though they passed earlier acceptance tests. “It’s going to take quite a bit of time to get to,” Kshatriya said, and will require additional testing once replaced. That work, he later said, drove the decision to delay the mission to September 2025.
A third issue is associated with the launch abort system for Orion, which allows it to escape a malfunctioning Space Launch System. In some cases where the abort system is triggered, there would be “deficiencies” in the electrical system on Orion. “The concern would be not that the vehicle wouldn’t be able to abort safely off of SLS, but that it would be able to maintain all of the power margin that we need from that separation all the way to landing,” he explained. That assessment of that issue is still in its early phases.
The delay in Artemis 2 pushes back Artemis 3, which gives more time for development by SpaceX of the Human Landing System version of Starship and Axiom Space of the lunar spacesuits needed for that mission. Even without the Artemis 2 slip, those officials suggested Artemis 3 would have slipped from the end of 2025 because of the amount of work needed on both Starship and the spacesuits.
“The new schedule for Artemis 3 aligns with the updated schedule for Artemis 2,” Kshatriya said. “It also acknowledges the very real development challenges that have been experienced by our industry partners.”
Asked about that schedule later, he said that even if Artemis 2 launched as previously scheduled in late 2024, “we would still need the extra time” for Artemis 3.
He called the September 2026 launch date for Artemis 3 “aggressive” but neither he nor Jim Free, NASA associate administrator and until recent head of the agency’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, would estimate the chances that the mission stays on that schedule.
“I don’t think I can put a number on it,” Free said of his confidence in the new schedule. “What I can tell you is that we put margin in there to account for some of the risks that we anticipate seeing. We tried to address the unknown unknowns and set a realistic plan in place.”
He said there are no plans for now to change the content of the two missions amid past rumors that the first landing mission might be moved from Artemis 3 to Artemis 4. That could change, he said, depending on what NASA learns from Artemis 2 and the availability of hardware for Artemis 3. “We’re constantly looking at what is going to be there and what’s going to be ready and what do we need to do to make sure that ultimately we minimize the risk.”
Nelson, who has frequently raised the alarm about China’s lunar exploration plans that call for landing people as soon as 2030, said he was not worried that China might get to the moon before the NASA returns with Artemis.
“I do not have a concern that China’s going to land before us,” he said. “With us landing in September of ’26, that will be the first landing.”