• Moon

Artemis II and III in 2025 and 2026

Published on 10 January 2024

Highlighting its desire to ensure the safety of astronauts, NASA indicated that the Artemis II mission (four people around the Moon) moved from the end of 2024 to September 2025. The moon landing with Artemis III also moves back one year to September 2026.

Artemis II and III in 2025 and 2026

Without any real surprise, the American agency officially announced during a press conference on January 9 a postponement of the next missions of the Artemis programme back to the Moon. The programme associates NASA with the space agencies of Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA) and Canada (ASC) and more recently the United Arab Emirates.


At the end of 2022, the Artemis I mission  saw the success of the inaugural take-off of the giant SLS (Space Launch System) launcher as well as an automatic journey to the Moon and the return of the Orion capsule attached to its European service module, ESM, provided by the European Space Agency (ESA).
Artemis II is based on a similar framework, but this time with four astronauts on board, including the first woman (Christina Koch), the first person of colour (Victor Glover) and the first Canadian (Jeremy Hansen) around the Moon. Announced for the end of 2024, since the press conference on January 9 it is now officially planned for September 2025 NET for Not Earlier Than (not before, normal precautionary language regarding mission dates).

The Orion capsule and its European Service Module (ESM) around the Moon during Artemis I at the end of 2022. The camera that captured this image on November 22, 2022 was situated at the end of one of the ESM’s solar panels.

The Artemis II crew in front of their Orion capsule at the Kennedy Space Center in August 2023. From left to right: Jeremy Hansen, Victor Glover, Reid Wiseman (commander) and Christina Koch.
© NASA/Kim Shiflett


This postponement is ultimately hardly surprising since NASA had previously indicated that it was working on an unexpected erosion of the heat shield from the Orion capsule of Artemis I. This subject was also raised on January 9 and the officials of the American agency believe that the delay of almost an additional year will allow a closer study of the data and the necessary corrective measures to be implemented if required, even if the erosion observed on Artemis I had no consequences on the capsule itself (no abnormal rise in temperature). NASA Administrator Bill Nelson once again underlined the agency’s logic: As we regularly remind everyone, safety is our top priority. 


Emphasising this aspect in his turn, the head of the Moon to Mars programme, Amit Kshatriya, also mentioned the discovery of a fault in the life support of the Orion capsule planned for Artemis II. The postponement allows this problem to be corrected and the system in question to be replaced, even if the Artemis II Orion had successfully passed all safety tests . Finally, a risk to Orion’s electrical system was identified in the event of use of the capsule ejection device during launch. While this would not have prevented this backup from working, resolving the fault will make it possible to maintain the desired margins in terms of electrical power.


Logically, the postponement to September 2025 of Artemis II postpones the following mission, Artemis III, to September 2026 (again NET) which should see the return to the Moon. The first thing to notice is that rumours that this feat would pass straight to Artemis IV were not borne out on January 9. For now, Artemis III therefore remains the mission which will see “the first person of color and the first woman on the surface of the Moon” (official NASA description). Remember that the Government Accountability Office (a body of Congress responsible for monitoring public finances) had warned that Artemis III in 2025 was “unlikely.” However, NASA is more optimistic than the GAO which puts forward 2027 as a more realistic deadline .
The major unknown for the return of the Americans to the Moon at the end of 2026 is of course the development of SpaceX’s Starship which must serve as a lander in a special version (what NASA calls an HLS for Human Landing System). 

Illustration of a SpaceX Starship in lunar version for the Artemis programme. The final ship could look different as development is ongoing.
© NASA/SpaceX

The Artemis III mission plans several Starship take-offs, including around ten which will refuel in Earth orbit.
@Cité de l’espace after NASA 


Even if the second test flight of November 2023 of the gigantic launcher went better than the first of April 2023, the logistics around Artemis III are complex. Indeed, once in Earth orbit (and with no crew involvement, Orion takes the astronauts to the Moon), the lunar Starship will have to “refuel” before leaving for our natural satellite, an operation which results in several flights of other Starships in tanker versions … During the conference on January 9, Bill Nelson suggested that around ten flights could be necessary. Only concrete tests of fuel transfer into orbit will establish the actual procedures for refuelling in orbit. Added to this is the requirement for SpaceX to conduct an automatic moon landing with a Starship before Artemis III (therefore before September 2026 … ) in order for it to qualify.

An artist’s impression of the Gateway station airlock module to be provided by the United Arab Emirates MBRSC. Its construction could be carried in cooperation with an American aerospace manufacturer. The name Boeing has been the subject of unconfirmed rumours to date.


Two days before this press conference on the 9th, i.e. Sunday January 7 NASA announced that the United Arab Emirates had become a new partner in the Artemis programme via the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) based in Dubai. MBRSC’s main participation consists in providing a module acting as an airlock for the Gateway station around the Moon (which allows spacewalks to maintain the station and place scientific experiments outside). The agreement provides for an Emirati astronaut to carry out a mission around the Moon in the Gateway.
For several years now, the United Arab Emirates have been developing a space programme, notably with the Hope probe around Mars since 2021 and already with two crewed flights to the ISS, the astronauts having travelled aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft (Hazza Al-Mansouri, almost eight days in 2019) then an American Crew Dragon (Sultan Al Neyadi, 186 days in 2023).


MBRSC within Artemis is a possibility that has often been put forward since 2022 when NASA was looking for a partner agency in addition to ESA , JAXA and ASC, with Russia having indicated its refusal since 2021. Note that the United Arab Emirates is also officially part of the Chinese Moon programme ILRS (International Lunar Research Station). It is the only country in this situation.

NASA video on the Artemis program posted online on January 9 when the new dates envisaged for the lunar program were announced.

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