Audit delivers 6 critical issues for NASA to fix before Artemis II launch       

An audit of NASA’s readiness for the Artemis II mission – which will put astronauts into orbit around the Moon – has found critical issues with the US space agency’s 2022 test flight.

The Artemis I mission was an uncrewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft, which inserted the module into lunar orbit before splashing down after Earth re-entry.

Examination of the module as well as site visits to the Kennedy Space Centre and interviews with officials from mission-associated programs has led to the Office of NASA’s Inspector General (OIG) finding “significant risks” to the Artemis II crew.

That includes 100 locations on Orion’s heat shield that “wore away differently than expected” during re-entry, noting engineers are investigating options to modify its design or alter re-entry trajectory.

Other issues with the crew module included melting and erosion of separation bolts and 24 power distribution anomalies which may be mitigated with software and hardware fixes. US$26m in damage to the spacecraft environment as a result of the launch was also recorded.

The OIG also noted delays to verification and validation testing for upgrades and modifications to Orion, the Space Launch System and ground facilities for Artemis II.

In its final report, the OIG made 6 recommendations:

(1) Ensure the root cause of Orion heat shield char liberation is well understood prior to launch of the Artemis II mission;

(2) Conduct analysis of Orion separation bolts using updated models that account for char loss, design modifications, and operational changes to Orion prior to launch of the Artemis II mission;

(3) Require EGS conduct additional verification and validation for launch imagery equipment prior to launch attempts should launch conditions change;

(4) Re-examine procedures to better ensure recovery of Orion jettisoned hardware for the Artemis II mission;

(5) Develop a corrective action plan to mitigate or prevent the recurrence of uninterpretable Orion telemetry data for the Artemis II mission; and

(6) Establish a course of action and timeline for individual Artemis system design changes before beginning integrated system assembly stacking operations.

According to the OIG, NASA management has agreed with the recommendations. NASA also says the latter 3 actions have been completed, though the OIG is yet to see evidence for this.

Artemis II’s launch date was pushed back to September 2025 after being originally scheduled to launch at the end of this year. A December audit by the US Government Accountability Office found multiple internal and contractor-based challenges made the ambitious second phase of the Artemis missions unrealistic. It also suggested the third mission that will place astronauts on the lunar surface will not be possible until at least early 2027.

Sign up to our weekly newsletter

Please login to favourite this article.