SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted on Sunday that his company’s spaceship would likely be ready to land humans on the moon before 2024.
Responding to a tweet asking whether the SpaceX launch vehicle would be ready to transport astronauts to the Moon by 2024 despite several delays to the mission, Musk said it could happen “probably sooner.”
SpaceX had bagged a $2.9bn contract to build a human landing system (HLS) for the Nasa Artemis mission to the moon, outbidding its competitors Blue Origin and Dynetics.
Partly due to protests filed with the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) by the SpaceX competitors, SpaceX experienced delays in receiving instalments of its obligated funds from Nasa, with the most recent of $300m paid on 30 July.
So far the company has received close to $440m from the US space agency, about 14.5 per cent of its potential award amount of about $3bn, according to USAspending, the official open data source of federal spending information.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 15, 2021
While it was former US vice president Mike Pence who set the vision for a 2024 launch date for Artemis, NASA’s own inspector general noted in a recent report that “lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible.”
NASA paid $300 million to SpaceX, its most recent major payment under the HLS program toward Starship, on July 30 (the day the GAO denied the protests of Blue Origin and Dynetics):https://t.co/TkISN3yWUU pic.twitter.com/nmTqDDs7mr
— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) August 14, 2021
According to this report from the Office of the Inspector General, published last week, there are “significant challenges” faced by the agency in meeting its goals to produce its next-generation spacesuit technology by November 2024.
“This schedule includes approximately a 20-month delay in delivery for the planned design, verification, and testing suit, two qualification suits, an ISS Demo suit, and two lunar flight suits,” the report noted, adding that the delays are attributable to “funding shortfalls, COVID-19 impacts, and technical challenges.”
“Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible,” the report noted.
Since the suits also need to be tested for their integration with other components of the mission, the report said they would not be ready for flight “until April 2025 at the earliest,” with some parts of the schedule expected to be delayed by at least two years.
“Current schedule projections show the VISE flight units will not be delivered to the HLS Program for integration and testing until January 2025 – a delay of nearly 2 years from the originally planned date of March 2023,” the report noted.