NASA is getting increasingly worried that SpaceX's massive and troubled Starship spacecraft may not be ready for the space agency's planned mission to the lunar surface in late 2025, SpaceNews reports.
Artemis 3, the agency's long-awaited mission to return the first astronauts to the Moon's surface in over 50 years, is meant to make use of SpaceX's spacecraft to ferry two out of four crew members from their Orion spacecraft in lunar orbit to the surface below.
Now, though, NASA associate administrator for exploration systems development Jim Free says the mission's scheduled date may slip from December 2025 to some time in 2026, according to SpaceNews — a rare vote of no confidence from a NASA official in SpaceX's efforts to develop its Moon rocket.
"December 2025 is our current manifest date," Free said, "but with the difficulties that SpaceX has had, I think that’s really concerning."
Lots of Launches
That's because SpaceX has to launch its Starship a significant number of times before then, Free argues, including an uncrewed lunar landing, as well as a successful demonstration of a fuel transfer in Earth's orbit. Then there's the fact that several "tanker" Starship will have to fuel the lander to make it all the way to the Moon.
"That’s a lot of launches to get those missions done," Free said during a Wednesday meeting, as quoted by SpaceNews.
The reality, of course, is that Space still hasn't managed to get a single Starship into orbit — with just under two and a half years before Artemis 3 is set to launch.
A test flight earlier this year ended in a spectacular explosion at an altitude of just over 24 miles.
An ever-optimistic Musk told users on Twitter in late April, just over a week after the explosion, that the next test launch could occur as soon as in a "couple months."
But even that date could end up slipping. The FAA is also still investigating the explosion and has grounded Starship in the meantime.
"I get a lot of questions, ‘Will you make the date?'" Free concluded at this week's meeting. "Well, they need to get flying before we can get any kind of assessment."
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