14 years, a billion dollars and a delay of two years: due to unavailability of NASA spacesuits, landing on the moon is postponed

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14 years, a billion dollars and a delay of two years: due to unavailability of NASA spacesuits, landing on the moon is postponed
14 years, a billion dollars and a delay of two years: due to unavailability of NASA spacesuits, landing on the moon is postponed

An internal review of the Artemis program revealed a number of serious delays in the development of its main components. Most likely, the planned American landing on the moon in 2024 will have to be postponed due to the unavailability of spacesuits. Special suits for extravehicular activities on the surface of a natural satellite of the Earth have been created since 2007 and they will cost the US budget a billion dollars, but still will not be ready on time.

14 years, a billion dollars and a delay of two years: due to unavailability of NASA spacesuits, landing on the moon is postponed

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has released another report (link to download a PDF document) analyzing the Artemis program. This is an organization within a government department, whose tasks are reduced to a total audit of the activities of the parent structure and the prevention of ineffective or illegal transactions. The conclusions of the report are disappointing: another reason has been found why the previously promised dates for landing on the moon in the 21st century will most likely have to be moved.

The problem with the most complex xEMU spacesuits, in which astronauts have to work on the lunar surface. Their development began in 2007, within the framework of the Constellation program that preceded Artemis. Since then, a little more than 420 million dollars have been spent on suits for the new generation for extravehicular activities (EVA). Another 652 million is needed to complete the work, with NASA's own structures and agency contractors failing deadlines. Although initially in the schedule for the preparation of the third mission of "Artemis" (just with the landing) was laid as much as a year's supply of time for the creation of xEMU (in case of delays).

There are several reasons. First, the US space agency systematically loses the requested funds from Congress. For example, this year funding for the LOP-G lunar orbital station program was cut by 28%, one of the cost items of which is the development of xEMU.

Secondly, in 2019, the President of the United States moved the date for the landing of Americans on the Moon from 2028 to 2024, which forced NASA to radically speed up work. This, in turn, has led to increased pressure on contractors and an atmosphere of haste. As an example, the report contains the results of an investigation of an incident that occurred during testing of one of the elements of the xEMU prototype.

A few months ago, an employee "used the wrong life support specifications" resulting in an unspecified breakdown. Those who made the mistake attributed this to "communication problems in the growing group of specialists working on the project", "insufficient qualifications of new employees", "constant attempts by management to speed up the process", as well as "lack of drawings for the unit and outdated equipment."

Thirdly, an important role is played by a seemingly redundant "tree" of contractors. Previously, one or two companies were involved in the creation of spacesuits for NASA, but 27 structures are working on xEMU at once. The need to coordinate actions between them clearly does not add speed to the entire program. The situation is further aggravated by frequently changing requirements.For example, last year alone, the requirements for the maximum weight of a suit became stricter by several kilograms - from 186.6 the limit dropped to 177.1 kilograms.

Finally, fourthly, the Office of the Inspector General has not forgotten about the coronavirus, which has already set the teeth on edge. The Covid-19 pandemic, or rather, the related restrictions on the work of contractors and NASA structures, delayed the creation of xEMU by at least three months. As a result, not only the pre-laid "gap" of 12 months was spent - the first two ready-made spacesuits can be shipped no earlier than November 2024. And their integration into the Orion spacecraft, designed for the Artemis-3 mission, will last at least until April 2025.

Elon Musk again shows NASA how to work, or not?

The controllers did not ignore the scandalous Human Landing System (HLS) program, the purpose of which is to create a lunar landing apparatus. This spacecraft must deliver astronauts from the LOP-G station or simply in orbit around the Moon "Orion" to the surface of a natural satellite of the Earth. And, of course, then return it back. Recall that a few months ago NASA chose only one instead of two companies - SpaceX. Because her proposal was the only one that fit into the cut budget and, despite its fantastic nature, looked the most technically thought out.

Nevertheless, other participants in the HLS competition demanded satisfaction, began a bureaucratic showdown, and the entire program was frozen. The US Accounts Commission recognized the legality of the actions of the space agency, but time has passed. So, despite the incredible pace of development of the Starship spacecraft (a special version of which will fly to the moon), Elon Musk's company may also not fit in until 2024. Especially considering the decision approved by NASA to change the schedule of the SpaceX lunar lander project in favor of sharply reduced funding (preliminary - just a year should be shifted).

On the other hand, the OIG report, to some extent, looks like a bureaucratic attempt to spread straws before the inevitable collision of NASA's image with the harsh reality: it will not be possible to withstand the several times confirmed time frame. The document, among other things, recalls the problems with the readiness of the SLS rocket. And this already resembles a full-fledged reference to all the same Starship, which literally rushed from the stage of drawings on a drawing board to flight tests in an unimaginable time for the industry.

In general, after the story with the HLS and the Vulcan rocket, for which the engines still cannot be made, the report of the office of the inspector general of NASA seems to be another reminder of the entire aerospace industry: in the old way, waddling and on astronomical budgets it is no longer possible to play, "private traders" cheaper and faster.

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