NASA’s target of landing humans on the moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis program is “not feasible,” according to a report from the agency’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released earlier this week.
The office said that NASA faces “significant challenges” in producing two flight-ready Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) spacesuits within that time frame.
The report noted that NASA’s schedule bumped into a 20-month delay in delivery for the design, verification, testing suit, two qualification suits, an ISS Demo suit and two lunar flight suits.
The delays, which the office attributes to technical difficulties, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and funding shortfalls, have not left any margin for delivery of the flight-ready xEMUs, it noted.
After spending more than a billion dollars on development and assembly, the office said the suits would not be ready for flight until April 2025 at the earliest, given integration requirements.
“Given these anticipated delays in spacesuit development, a lunar landing in late 2024 as NASA currently plans is not feasible,” the report continued. “That said, NASA’s inability to complete development of xEMUs for a 2024 moon landing is by no means the only factor impacting the viability of the Agency’s current return-to-the-moon timetable.”
It goes on to cite previous audit work that found “significant delays in other major programs essential to a lunar landing, including the Space Launch System rocket and Orion capsule.”
In addition, the report highlights the impact of development delays and the bid protests on the schedule.
While suits are needed for training on Artemis missions and the International Space Station (ISS), training needs “do not align with projections of when suit hardware will be available” and there are concerns that there will not be sufficient quantities of training hardware available for early training events to support the currently planned 2024 Artemis III mission.
The office recommended that the agency determine its approach to procuring additional suits and pointed out that the extent to which NASA investments will be utilized is unclear and may not prove to be cost-effective.
The OIG made four recommendations to Kathy Lueders, NASA’s associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.
Those recommendations include “adjusting the schedule as appropriate to reduce development risks,” “developing an integrated master schedule to incorporate and align the hardware deliveries and training needs of the dependent Programs – Gateway, ISS and HLS – and the Flight Operations Directorate,” “ensuring technical requirements for the next-generation suits are solidified before selecting the acquisition strategy to procure suits for the ISS and Artemis programs” and “developing an acquisition strategy for the next-generation spacesuits that meets the needs of both the ISS and Artemis programs.”
SpaceX founder Elon Musk wrote on Twitter on Tuesday that his company “could do it if need be,” though did not provide specifics.