NASA IG: Artemis Will Cost $86 Billion Through FY2025, Launch Dates “Highly Unlikely”

NASA IG: Artemis Will Cost $86 Billion Through FY2025, Launch Dates “Highly Unlikely”

NASA’s Inspector General remains skeptical that NASA can launch the first three Artemis missions on their promised schedules, calling it “highly unlikely.” In a report released today, he also estimates that NASA has spent $37.2 billion on Artemis so far, a total that will reach $86 billion by the end of FY2025.

Paul Martin, who has been NASA’s IG since 2009, did not make any recommendations in this most recent update on the Artemis program, but cautioned that the schedule appears unrealistic.

NASA has been working toward the Artemis I test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft by the end of this year. The first SLS/Orion flight with a crew, Artemis II, is on the books for 2023, and the return of astronauts to the lunar surface on Artemis III in 2024. That date was set by the Trump Administration in 2019.

With the change in administrations, the schedule is under review, but Acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk said as recently as Friday that 2024 remains a possibility. Announcing the selection of SpaceX to build the Human Landing System (HLS) for that mission, he acknowledged the complexity of developing HLS but said if SpaceX meets its milestones “we may have a shot at 2024.”

Skepticism has surrounded the 2024 deadline since the beginning for both technical and budgetary reasons. Responding to Friday’s announcement, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), chairwoman of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee that oversees NASA, said there is “no realistic chance of returning astronauts to the Moon by 2024.”

Today’s IG report stops just short of that assessment, calling it “highly unlikely.”

As currently planned, NASA’s return to the Moon requires SLS, Orion and their associated Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) at Kennedy Space Center (KSC); a small space station called Gateway in lunar orbit initially consisting of a Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO); and HLS.

After reviewing all those programs, the IG report concludes “the Agency faces significant challenges that we believe will make its current plan to launch Artemis I in 2021 and ultimately land astronauts on the Moon by the end of 2024 highly unlikely.”

Feeding into that assessment is the recent delay in delivering the SLS core stage to KSC because the “Green Run” hot fire test had to be run a second time. That affects the schedule for integrating the core stage with the rest of the SLS components, including solid rocket boosters, an upper stage, and Orion.

Following delivery of the core stage to Kennedy, NASA will shift its focus to its first-time integration of the SLS, Orion, and EGS systems for the Artemis I launch. Integration and final systems testing is a complex and time-consuming process that often discovers issues in need of costly rework. Given all of these factors, a planned 2021 Artemis I launch is in jeopardy of slipping to 2022, a delay that would cascade and push back the launch of Artemis II into at least the third quarter of 2023, ultimately impacting the launch date for Artemis III. The Artemis program also faces challenges integrating and launching the PPE and HALO, the first Gateway components. With respect to development of the critical human landing system, NASA received only about 25 percent of its budget request for the HLS Program, putting new pressure on the Agency to meet the 2024 timeline.

The report does give NASA credit for the “significant progress” it has made especially since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. NASA field centers have gone through stages when they were closed or open only to essential employees, not to mention supply chain disruptions.

The report also calculated the costs of the Artemis program through FY2025 based on what was spent through FY2020, how much Congress appropriated for FY2021 (the current fiscal year), and projected funding from NASA’s budget request that was submitted last year.

The total is $86 billion: $37.2 billion spent, $6.6 billion appropriated for FY2021, and $41.7 billion projected for FY2022 through FY2025.

NASA provided an estimate of Artemis costs FY2021-FY2025 in a report it issued last year, but that $27.9 billion was on top of what the agency already was planning to request, not the total cost.

Its FY2021 budget request does show $41.7 billion as its projected requests for Deep Space Exploration Systems for FY2022-2025.

Congress supports the goal of returning astronauts to the Moon and going on to Mars on a bipartisan basis, but not the aggressive timeline proposed by the Trump Administration. It significantly cut the funding for HLS in FY2021, providing $850 million instead of $3.4 billion.

The Biden Administration supports Artemis and included funding for it in its FY2022 budget request. Overall it is requesting $24.7 billion for the agency, a 6.3 percent increase over FY2021. That includes a $325 million increase for Artemis, to $6.9 billion, but NASA’s request last year projected a need for $10.3 billion in FY2022.

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