WASHINGTON — NASA is still working to refine an architecture for the next phases of its Artemis lunar exploration campaign which it now expects to roll out in April.

Speaking at a Space Transportation Association luncheon here Feb. 7, Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development, said there is still unfinished work from an architecture concept review held by the agency the week of Jan. 23 at the Kennedy Space Center to examine how to achieve a series of objectives for exploration of the moon and Mars that the agency developed last year.

“We came out of that week and our success criteria were not as green as we had gone into, which I’m good with because that means we pushed the boundaries a little bit,” he said. He didn’t elaborate on the issues left unresolved from the review.

NASA now plans to reconvene the participants of that review later this month, followed by taking the finalized architecture to the agency’s executive council in mid-March. NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy will discuss the outcome of that effort at the Space Symposium conference a month later in Colorado Springs.

After that, he said NASA would release “one of the volumes” of the architecture definition document. That will focus on Artemis 2 through 5, a series of missions to the moon that will run through late this decade. Artemis 2 will be the first crewed Orion mission, taking astronauts to the moon. Artemis 3 will feature the first Artemis crewed landing, while Artemis 4 and 5 will include both crewed landings and assembly of elements of the lunar Gateway.

There will be less detail about later Artemis missions. “The detail will vary,” he said. “We don’t want to lock in [Artemis] 6 through 10 right now. That’d be foolish. We’re trying to take it in chunks.”

NASA plans to conduct architecture concept reviews annually, with the next scheduled for November. That upcoming review, he said, will have a “heavier Mars focus” including how later Artemis missions will align with long-term plans for human Mars missions.

Among those who participated in the architecture concept review was Jody Singer, director of the Marshall Space Flight Center. She said at the luncheon she appreciated knowing what skills and resources she needed for Marshall to support later Artemis missions to ensure the “viability” of the center.

“We’re applauding the opportunity not only to know what we need to know through Artemis 5, but also, as we go forward with this, understanding what’s for the future,” she said. “It shows not only the opportunities that are out there but also the skills and what we need to maintain and prioritize.”

New program office

Free also addressed a requirement in the NASA authorization act passed last year that directed NASA to create a “Moon to Mars Program Office” within the agency. That office would be responsible for the major programs of Artemis, including the Space Launch System, Orion, Exploration Ground Systems, lunar Gateway, Human Landing System and spacesuits. The office would be led by a director reporting to Free.

While the authorization act required NASA to create the office within 120 days of the bill’s enactment in July 2022, Free said that work was still in progress, The agency had first sent its plan for the office to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget and, after revisions, to key congressional committees.

“We’ve briefed everyone on the structure. We’re just waiting to hear back,” he said. “We can’t move out until we get that approval from the committees.”

Free said he’s told those working on Artemis not to focus on the creation of the new office. “This is their second reorganization in 18 months and I don’t want anyone to get distracted from flying humans safely,” he said, a reference to NASA’s decision in the fall of 2021 to split the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate into the Space Operations Mission Directorate and Free’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.

“We’re just mission-focused right now,” he said, adding he believed the new office would “overlay very nicely” with existing programs. “I effectively was the moon-to-Mars program manager before this. We’ll have somebody else in that role now. But I’m hoping within the next couple of months, we will be able to do that.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...