NASA has confirmed that astronauts will land on the Moon for the second time as part of the Artemis program’s fourth mission, the first being during Artemis 2. With the confirmation, the agency reversed its decision to dedicate Artemis 4 to the assembly of the Lunar Gateway, a space station around the Moon. The announcement was made by NASA Artemis program manager Mark Kirasich at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium on October 29. SpaceNews reported.
(The Lunar Gateway; Image: ESA)
During the presentation, Kirasich said that Artemis 4 would be the “second time people landed on the moon” instead of assembling the Gateway. Once built, the Gateway will serve as a habitat and a refueling and research center for the astronauts. Assembly of the lunar space station will begin from Artemis 3, which would be launched after Artemis 2, the first time humans walk on the Moon in 2024, according to the current schedule.
The official further revealed that Artemis 4 will allow NASA to exercise “Option B” of the human landing system involving SpaceX’s Starship rocket. Option B, according to SpaceNews, involves making changes to the Starship system that will be used in previous missions. In March this year, NASA said Artemis 3 should be launched in 2025 at the earliest and Artemis 4 probably in 2027, but that was without a landing plan.
The latest confirmation comes just two weeks before the launch of the first mission of the Artemis program to the Moon. Artemis 1, which has been delayed twice since August 29, is scheduled to launch on November 14 during a 69-minute launch window that opens at 9:37 a.m. IST. Artemis 1 is the uncrewed mission intended to test the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft during a trip around the Moon. NASA said the mission would last about 25.5 days and end with a drop in the Pacific Ocean on December 9 (date according to EDT).
(The SLS rocket; Image: NASA)
It should be noted that recurring delays have inflated the cost per mission from $500 million in 2012 to $4.1 billion today. According CNBC report, the initial cost was estimated during the introduction of the SLS rocket, which was to be launched in 2016. NASA Inspector General Paul Martin recently said that each of the Artemis missions, which have years of delay, will cost several times more than the initial projections.