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Lockheed ‘very close’ to decoding Artemis spacecraft issues

Lockheed Martin believes it’s now “very close to understanding” the erosion of the heat shield suffered during Artemis I, which has been partly blamed for delaying its future missions.

The defence prime is behind the Orion spacecraft that flew around the moon during 2022’s uncrewed mission and will return humans to the surface for Artemis III.

It comes after key figures in the space industry told a US congressional committee that they doubted NASA would be able to return humans to the lunar surface by their revised target of 2026.

However, senior leaders from both NASA and the primes behind critical parts of the launch vehicle have outlined how they have learned lessons from Artemis I that will improve the success of future blast-offs.


Speaking at a conference in Orlando, NASA’s principal adviser for space transportation, Janet Karika, described the process being implemented to learn lessons from 2022’s uncrewed flypast of the moon.

“We wanted up with a way to capture all the lessons learned, to have Artemis II be as successful as possible,” she said. “So, we took a new approach to lessons learned.”

The process involved talking to people at all levels of seniority alongside internal and external stakeholders and experts in knowledge capture.

Boeing Exploration Systems, meanwhile, is responsible for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.


The prime’s mission area vice-president, John Shannon, said a further lesson learned was the difficulty its teams had accessing repair parts for the SLS when it was already on the launch pad.

“Really having that late access to hardware at the pad is going to be a requirement for future missions,” he said.

In January, NASA cited safety concerns as the main reason for shifting Artemis II, the crewed moon flyby, from later this year to 2025, and Artemis III, the return to the surface, from September 2025 to September 2026.

Problems included a battery issue, challenges with air ventilation onboard the spaceship, and the “unexpected loss of char layer pieces” from Orion’s heat shield during Artemis I.

Space Connect reported last month, though, how a former NASA administrator said he doesn’t believe the agency will return humans to the lunar surface by 2026.

Mike Griffin, who led the organisation from 2005 to 2009, argued that while Artemis II’s mission to fly humans around the moon next year was “very doable”, taking astronauts to the lunar surface the following year wasn’t.

“I don’t think Artemis III, the landing mission, is at all realistically scheduled,” he said.

Griffin was not alone in his criticisms.

George Scott, acting NASA inspector general, argued the agency would “continue to be challenged on the schedule front” with Artemis III, while William Russell, director of contracting and national security acquisitions, added a 12-month gap between Artemis II and III wasn’t enough.

“One year is not a lot of time to do that learning,” he said.

The delays come despite the success of the Artemis I test mission in December 2022, which saw Orion fly around the moon without crew for 26 days.

Its re-entry broke records, being the hottest and fastest re-entry of any spacecraft in history as it “skipped” off the Earth’s atmosphere to burn off excess speed.

Once safely in the ocean, the capsule was picked up by a US Navy ship, the USS Portland, to be transported back to the US.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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