After Starship explosion, moon landing could slip into 2026, NASA manager suggests

Flight testing first; Artemis III later, Jim Free says

WASHINGTON – Jim Free, associate administrator of NASA HQ’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate, said in a meeting Wednesday that the number of expected test flights standing between SpaceX and Artemis III could push the mission past its planned December 2025 launch.

SpaceX’s involvement in the Artemis Program is planned to be twofold, at least. Glossing over how SpaceX has been contracted with developing a human landing system that must safely shuttle astronauts between the lunar south pole and Gateway, a lunar station to be kept in near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO), the California-based rocket launcher is also tasked with using its gargantuan Starship to refuel the lander before it departs low-Earth orbit for the moon, not too unlike air-to-air refueling, in theory.

In April, the world watched as Starship was launched for the first and, so far, only time, tumbling and exploding in what SpaceX addressed as a “rapid unscheduled disassembly.”

Therein lies the issue on Free’s mind. He finds it concerning that SpaceX has an unclear number of test flights ahead of Starship before joining in Artemis III, adding “you can think about that slipping probably into ‘26.”

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It isn’t known when Starship will be launched again, but as CBS News’ Bill Harwood has reported, Free does expect that SpaceX will eventually deliver on the lander.

Either way, Free said SpaceX needs to get flying again before an Artemis III date can even be promised.

“SpaceX is on contract to do an un-crewed lander (...) One milestone before that is the ship-to-ship cryogenic propellant transfer. We’re delaying our CDR (critical design review) until they complete that, and then they have to just get flying. So when you step back and you look at (it), that’s a lot of launches to get those missions done,” Free said. “...The fact is, if they’re not flying on the time they said, it’s no good if we have a firm-fixed-price contract other than we’re not paying more.”

Read further with Harwood by clicking here.

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Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.