NASA Media Teleconference: “Sustaining Lunar Development”

Yesterday, 2022-03-23, NASA held a media teleconference on their announcement of the second phase of Project Artemis Human Landing System procurement for lunar missions. Participants were:

  • Bill Nelson, NASA administrator
  • Jim Free, associate administrator for NASA’s Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate
  • Mark Kirasich, deputy associate administrator for Artemis campaign development
  • Lisa Watson-Morgan, Human Landing System Program manager

In the “sustainable” phase, following the initial Artemis 3 human “Black to the Moon” landing, now scheduled (that’s “scheduled”, not “expected”) for 2025 and using the SpaceX Starship Human Landing System (HLS), NASA will competitively procure a second human landing system in which SpaceX will propose a new Starship variant to meet the revised requirements and new vendors will bid their systems to perform an uncrewed demonstration mission and initial crewed landing.

This conference announces the NASA request for proposals for the sustainable human landing system and how it will be integrated into the plans (if one dares use the word) for the Artemis program.

Unusually for one of these gab fests, there was more interesting information in the question and answer period than the initial presentation. In particular, NASA said that SpaceX had met all milestones so far toward the initial Starship HLS uncrewed demonstration mission and was confident it was, in their view, on schedule. This seems awfully optimistic for a system which has yet to demonstrate:

  • Flight of its first stage Super Heavy booster in the atmosphere or space
  • Recovery and re-use of the Super Heavy booster (necessary to perform the required refuelling of Starship HLS)
  • Orbital flight and recovery of any Earth orbital Starship
  • Development and test of Starship tanker version
  • Demonstration of Earth orbit refilling of Starship HLS
  • Development and testing of propulsion system for landing Starship HLS on the Moon

There are 1370 days between April Fools’ Day 2022 and the end of 2025.