Washington, DC, January 12: NASA's ambitious Artemis programme, aiming to return astronauts to the moon this decade, has encountered significant delays, as announced by the space agency, CNN reported. The much-anticipated Artemis III mission, set to mark the return of humans to the lunar surface, has been postponed to at least September 2026, a year later than initially planned.

The primary factors contributing to the delay revolve around SpaceX's development of Starship, the colossal rocket and spacecraft system intended to transport astronauts to the moon's south pole. Recent setbacks, including two Starship test flight explosions in 2023, have impacted the timeline. NASA Delays Its Mission To Take Humans Back to Moon Until 2025, Plans To Send First Women and First Person of Colour on Lunar Surface.

Jessica Jensen, SpaceX's Vice President of Customer Operations and Integration, acknowledged the need for extensive propellant transfer efforts, involving at least 10 refuelling flights, before lunar travel can be achieved.

NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free stressed the necessity of realism in evaluating starship progress and the challenges associated with propellant transfer. "We must be realistic. ... We're looking at our starship progress and need for propellant transfer, the need for numerous landings," NASA Associate Administrator Jim Free told reporters, according to CNN.

Despite SpaceX's potential readiness for a third Starship test flight by February, the delays pose a significant hurdle for the Artemis III mission. Issues with engineering spacesuits for lunar surface activities and delays in the Artemis II mission, originally set for November 2024, have also contributed to the reshuffling of NASA's plans. The new target date for Artemis II is now September 2025. SpaceX Launches 96 Successful Missions and Delivers Over 80% of Earth’s Payload in Orbit, Elon Musk Reacts to X User’s Video.

Problems with the Orion crew capsule, including unexpected damage to the heat shield during the Artemis I mission in 2022, are among the key concerns. Amit Kshatriya, Deputy Associate Administrator for NASA's Moon to Mars Programme, highlighted ongoing challenges with the Orion crew capsule's life support system and valves that failed during testing. Despite the setbacks, NASA remains committed to its 2028 launch target for the Artemis IV mission, focusing on establishing a space station called Gateway to orbit the moon.

The adjustments in the Artemis programme's timeline represent a substantial shift in expectations. The programme's overarching goal is to establish a permanent human presence on the moon, aligning with global efforts in lunar exploration. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson addressed concerns about China's lunar ambitions, expressing confidence that the United States would maintain its leadership despite the setbacks.

The delays in NASA's crewed Artemis missions coincide with a setback in the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programmes. The Astrobotic Peregrine lander, the first of four partnered landers designed to transport cargo to the moon, experienced a failure after launch on Monday. The company is assessing how to dispose of the vehicle as it depletes propellant en route to the moon, CNN reported.

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