NASA To Spend $ 93 Billion On Lunar Artemis Program By 2025, Report Estimates

Putting boots on the moon is an expensive proposition.

NASA’s spending on its Artemis program, which aims to establish a lasting human presence on and around the moon by the end of the decade, is expected to reach a total of $ 93 billion by 2025, according to a new audit by the Office of the Inspector General of NASA (OIG).

“Additionally, while NASA has several initiatives underway to increase affordability, we forecast that the current production cost of a single SLS / Orion system will be $ 4.1 billion per launch,” a- he added. The OIG report states, referring to the Orion crew capsule and the Space Launch System rocket, which are essential parts of Artemis.

“Going forward, without capturing, accurately reporting and reducing the cost of future SLS / Orion missions, the Agency will face significant challenges in maintaining its Artemis program in its current configuration,” the 73-page report adds, which was released on Monday (November). .15).

For comparison, the United States spent $ 28 billion on NASA Apollo lunar program between 1960 and 1973, according to the nonprofit Planetary Society. That’s about $ 280 billion in today’s dollars.

Related: How NASA’s Artemis moon landing works with astronauts

13 years of spending

Although the Artemis program was first announced in December 2017, development of Orion and SLS officially began in 2011. Thus, the OIG report’s estimate of $ 93 billion spans more than a decade. expense, from fiscal year 2012 to fiscal year 2025. (In the US government calendar, fiscal years begin October 1 and end September 30. Fiscal year 2012, for example, began October 1, 2011 .)

The original plan to return to the moon called for astronauts to land near the moon’s south pole for the first time by 2028. In March 2019, however, President Donald Trump’s administration stepped things up, re – targeting the first crewed lunar landing since Apollo days to 2024 and dubbing the initiative the Artemis program.

This revised schedule was widely seen within the space community as overly ambitious, and NASA is no longer working on it: Last week, agency chief Bill Nelson announced that Artemis’ first crewed landing would have probably place not before 2025.

And 2025 could also be out of reach. The new OIG report, which apparently was written before Nelson’s announcement, estimates that NASA will miss the Trump administration’s landing target in late 2024 “by several years.” The audit cites the need to develop and test new Artemis space suits, which are late, and the program’s Human Landing System (HLS), which will transport astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

In April 2021, NASA selected SpaceX to supply the initial Artemis HLS, which will be a version of the enormous Vessel vehicle. However, two companies that lost the HLS contract, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Dynetics, lodged protests with the OIG immediately after the award was announced. Those protests were dismissed in July, but Blue Origin then filed a lawsuit, which was dismissed earlier this month. The work under the Starship HLS contract has therefore only just begun.

Likely launch delays

Artemis’ first crewed landing mission is called Artemis 3, as this will be the program’s third launch. The first, Artemis 1, will send an unmanned Orion traveling around the moon. Artemis 2 will also be a circumlunar mission, but with astronauts on board.

NASA is targeting February 2022 for the launch of Artemis 1. But the OIG report is less optimistic, estimating that the mission “will be ready for launch by summer 2022”.

According to the report, such Artemis delays have multiple causes, ranging from technical challenges to the COVID-19 pandemic to extreme weather events. Last August, for example, Hurricane Ida destroyed NASA’s Michoud assembly facility in Louisiana, which is building the main stage of the SLS.

In addition, the HLS and another element of Artemis, the lunar orbiting space station known as the Gateway, received less money from Congress in fiscal year 2021 “than needed to meet the strategy of ‘initial acquisition by NASA,’ the report notes.

The OIG report makes nine recommendations to Jim Free, who, as NASA’s associate administrator for leading the Exploration Systems Development (ESD) mission, oversees Artemis. This advisory is designed to improve “the accuracy, transparency and safety of manned flights”.

The space agency fully or partially agreed with all but two of the recommendations. These two were “develop an Artemis-wide cost estimate and update it on an annual basis” and “keep a cost accounting by mission and establish a benchmark against which NASA can assess the costs. results of initiatives to increase the affordability of ESD systems. “

The new audit focuses on the timing of the Artemis program, its projected costs, and how NASA’s acquisition and scheduling strategies are affecting the next moonshock. It was conducted from December 2020 to November 2021, OIG officials said.

The new report is the second in a series directly evaluating the Artemis program. Over the past five years, however, the OIG and the Government Accountability Office have issued 21 reports “of great relevance to the subject of this report,” the audit said.

Mike Wall is the author of “The low“(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about finding alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom Or on Facebook.

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