Artemis I Launch Delayed to Mid- to Late 2021

SLS core stage installation (Credits: NASA/SSC)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA Associate Administrator Steve Jurcyk said on Friday that the first Artemis mission to the moon will not launch later this year but will hopefully fly in the mid- to late 2021 time frame.

It marks yet another delay in a program that is already running years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. The slip potentially makes the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon in 2024 more difficult to achieve.

The Artemis I mission will send an automated Orion spacecraft around the moon. The second flight will launch a four-member crew around the moon, with a landing by two astronauts planned for 2024.

Jurcyk revealed the delay in remarks made during the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC) meeting at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

Artemis’ pacing item is the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage, which is now at the NASA Stennis Space Center in Mississippi being prepared for a full static fire test known as the green run.

Jurcyk said he expected the core stage to be shipped from Stennis to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in late summer or early fall following the hot fire test.

The booster will then be integrated at NASA KSC with the Orion spacecraft and an upper stage booster. Orion is now undergoing vacuum chamber tests at the NASA Plum Brook Station in Ohio.

Jurcyk said contracts for the Human Landing System that will take astronauts to the lunar surface will be awarded within weeks. NASA will do a down select from among the dozen companies that were given study contracts.

NASA is also making progress on the Lunar Gateway, a human-tended space station that will orbit the moon and serve as a base for missions to the surface.

Maxar Technologies is developing the power and propulsion module. Jurcyk said NASA is in the midst of contract negotiations with Northrop Grumman for a small habitat module that will house the crew.

The space agency is also preparing to award a contract for Lunar Gateway logistical support, he added.