No lunar base before 2034

No lunar base before 2034
No lunar base before 2034

This is what internal documents from the American space agency revealed on Monday by the magazine Ars-Technica. They contain a schedule of launches to the Moon, at a rate that would not even reach the rate of one mission per year before 2030.

These documents appeared at about the same time as what should be the “last test” of the reactors of the new lunar rocket, still called Space Launch System (SLS). NASA has not, however, committed to this being the last test before its first launch, scheduled for an undetermined date this year.

Officially, the space agency is still sticking to its Artemis program—the name of the lunar program—planning for three SLS launches: the first unmanned, the second with two astronauts in lunar orbit, and the third including a walk on the Moon. . NASA has always remained vague on the following launches, which should in theory ensure the establishment of a permanent base up there. But according to internal documents, even the third is already postponed until after 2025, among other things because the new lunar spacesuits will not be ready. It is the slow progress of these and subsequent missions that now places the establishment of a “base camp” on the Moon in 2034, at the earliest.

The whole story of this return to the Moon is a long series of delays. The SLS has been in preparation since 2011 and had already, in 2021, swallowed up $14 billion. The Orion capsule, which will carry the astronauts, was originally supposed to be ready in 2017. And the last member of the trio of this return to the Moon, the station Lunar Gateway which, from lunar orbit, is to serve as a platform to the Moon, depends for its construction on a series of regular flights, after the third launch. Finally, all this was imagined before the private company entered the scene and showed its ability to design a rocket, a capsule or a moon landing module itself.

These are now two scenarios that, the documents also reveal, engineers and administrators are trying to squeeze into a limited budget: one, which tries to stick to regular launches — and struggles to guarantee a launch by year — and the other that targets launches based on hardware ready to ship to build the Lunar Gateway.

The result, summarizes the journalist specializing in space affairs Éric Berger, is “a slow lunar program which, for the most part, fails to achieve the objectives” set by the “national space policy”.

In the immediate future, if the reactor tests prove conclusive, we could at least witness the launch of “Artemis 1” later this year: the rocket will carry the Orion capsule, without a passenger, for a round trip to lunar orbit and landing in the ocean, as in the days of the Apollo capsules.

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The article is in French

Tags: lunar base

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