October 6th, 2023
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. — Late last year, NASA successfully launched its first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, propelling an uncrewed Orion capsule on a flight to a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. That was Artemis 1.
During an August briefing at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center, Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for Exploration Systems Development, said Artemis 2 was running a “number of weeks” behind schedule. But for now, the previously announced November 2024 target launch date remains unchanged.
Then, there’s Artemis 3 — the SLS/Orion flight slated to return humans to the surface of the Moon using a lander provided by SpaceX.
Artemis 3 is scheduled for launch in late 2025. However, in the same August briefing, Free explained that SpaceX had considerable work to do on the lander and that a different mission could be flown if the lander isn’t ready.
Here’s a rundown on the current state of the Artemis 2 and 3 missions and associated hardware:
Orion crew module: Located in the Neil Amstrong Operations and Checkout (O&C) Building at KSC. The heat shield was installed June 25, 2023, and weight and center of gravity testing was recently completed.
In August, Luis Saucedo, NASA’s deputy manager for the Crew and Service Module Office, told Spaceflight Insider that the crew and service modules, collectively, were roughly 85% complete. He also stated that NASA and Lockheed Martin (the primary contractor for Orion) are still investigating uneven charring to the Artemis 1 Orion heatshield, but as of yet, no changes have been made to the Artemis 2 heatshield.
Jim Free explained that the heatshield is the largest “open-item” from Artemis 1, but NASA and Lockheed Martin hope to arrive at the root cause and reach a final disposition by April 2023.
Orion Stage Adapter (OSA): This section connects the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) to Orion. Per an email from Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC): “The Artemis II Orion stage adapter is in final assembly at [MSFC] and [is] pending completion later this fall. Based on the stacking schedule, it will be flown via NASA’s Super Guppy airplane from [MSFC] to [KSC] in the same timeframe as the ICPS for Artemis  is transferred for stacking operations, currently slated for spring 2024.”
European Service Module (ESM): The ESM sits directly below Orion in the SLS stack and provides primary propulsion and life support for the crew module. It’s built by Airbus in Bremen, Germany, on a contract for the European Space Agency (ESA).
Artemis 2’s ESM arrived at KSC in October 2021 and was formally handed over from ESA to NASA on June 14, 2023.
Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA): This adapter partially encloses the ICPS and connects it to the Core Stage below and the OSA above.
Per an email from MSFC: The “Artemis  LVSA is complete and in storage [at MSFC]. It will ship[ed] via NASA’s Pegasus barge from [MSFC] to [KSC] when NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems [(EGS)] team is ready to prepare it for stacking operations, currently slated for no early than spring 2024.”
Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS): This is the upper stage for the Block 1 SLS rocket. It was used for Artemis 1 and will be used for Artemis 2 and 3.
The ICPS was built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) in Decatur, Alabama, and was delivered to KSC in 2021. It was in storage at KSC until April 2023, and is currently undergoing preflight testing at KSC.
Core stage: Located at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) near New Orleans. Earlier this year, the five major structures / segments were integrated. As of Sept. 20, 2023, all four RS-25 engines are soft-mounted to the stage.
Per Jim Free, the core stage is scheduled for completion in the Fall of 2023 and should be shipped from MAF to KSC in November 2023. Free said the stage needs to be delivered to KSC by February 2024 as to not affect the Artemis 2 critical path.
Spacesuits: The Orion Crew Survival System (OCSS) suit, a customized/modified Shuttle-era Advanced Crew Escape Suit (ACES), manufactured by the David Clark Company, appears to be ready for Artemis 2 training and launch.
Crew: Not yet named and no timing for an announcement has been released.
Orion crew module: Undergoing assembly at KSC’s O&C.
Orion Stage Adapter (OSA): Per an email from MSFC: “The Artemis [3 OSA] is assembled and is currently staged at [MSFC]. The OSA diaphragm is scheduled for delivery to [MSFC] later this fall and is scheduled for installation in spring 2024.”
European Service Module (ESM): Undergoing final integration at Airbus in Bremen, Germany, and scheduled to arrive at KSC later in 2023.
Launch Vehicle Stage Adapter (LVSA): Construction completed, and the foam insulation / thermal protection was applied at MSFC in late spring 2023.
Per an email from MSFC: “The Artemis  LVSA is currently undergoing final integration and frangible joint assembly at [MSFC].”
Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS): Departed ULA’s Decatur, Alabama, factory on Aug. 1, 2023, and arrived at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Poseidon Wharf on Aug. 9, 2023.
The stage will undergo final checkouts by Boeing and ULA prior to delivery to KSC.
Core stage: Generally, under assembly at MAF. However, the engine section (without its four RS-25 engines) was delivered to KSC, from MAF, on Dec. 10, 2022. It’s being processed at KSC’s Space Station Processing Facility (SSPF) and will later be integrated with the remainder of the stage and its RS-25s in KSC’s Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB).
The RS-25 refurbishment / upgrades are complete and the engines are in storage at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, awaiting shipment to KSC.
Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs): Casting of all segments was completed by Northrup Grumman in 2022 and are in storage in Utah awaiting shipment to KSC.
Spacesuits: The suits for Artemis 3 are to be provided by Axiom Space. In August, Jim Free said the Artemis 3 spacesuit preliminary design review was scheduled for October 2023.
Lander: The Artemis 3 lander is to be a variant of SpaceX’s Starship. However, there is concern the lander may not be ready in time for the late 2025 launch date.
In August, Jim Free explained that SpaceX’s Starship needs to launch multiple times prior to Artemis 3, including a Starship-to-Starship propellant transfer mission and an uncrewed demonstration flight.
Free even went so far as to say NASA may fly a different Artemis 3 mission (rather than a Moon-landing) if the lander isn’t ready.
Scott earned both a Bachelor’s Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware.
Scott attended the STS – 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.