NASA is planning its Artemis 3 moon-landing mission to be historic and iconic. That is why the space agency contracted SpaceX in 2021 to develop its crewed lander for Artemis 3 moonwalkers. NASA revealed that the vehicle should be able to carry two astronauts to the lunar surface and also safely return them to lunar orbit once they complete their mission on the surface.
However, since rockets and spacecraft exhaust most of their fuel, while escaping Earth’s deep gravity, SpaceX is designing an orbit refueling system for its massive Starship that will carry Artemis 3 astronauts to the moon. However since the SpaceX Starship is supermassive, NASA is showing concern about how many refueling flights would the spaceship require to successfully accomplish the mission.
On Tuesday (Jan. 9) during the teleconference, between NASA officials and some SpaceX representatives including the company’s Vice President of Customer Operations and Integration Jessica Jensen, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson brought up this question. Nelson asked the question ensuring that Jensen’s response will not state the specific number of flights.
Jense answered that it would need about “roughly 10ish” flights to fuel up the Artemis 3 Starship in space. However, this number could likely change depending on how tests of the propellant transfer capability could be handled. “The Starship’s upcoming third test flight will not be the mission that does the on-orbit ship-to-ship propellant transfer” that will be necessary for Artemis 3,” Jensen noted.
“It sounds complex and scary, and it seems like this kind of big nebulous thing, but when you really break it down into the various pieces, we’ve actually achieved almost all of the complex parts already on our operational programs now, and it’s just gonna be piecing them together for Starship,” Jensen added.
Why NASA is So Concerned about SpaceX’s readiness for Artemis 3 moon-landing mission
After the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972, no other human has made it to the lunar surface. Hence, NASA wants to unlock the door of exploring the moon once again starting with the Artemis 3 mission.
Since this mission will be the first manned mission to the lunar south pole and the first in the 21st century, NASA hopes to record a great level of success from it. Based on the progress and successful launches of SpaceX Falcon rockets, NASA strongly believes that the aerospace company will safely land its astronauts on the lunar south pole in September 2026.
During the recent teleconference, NASA officials asked numerous questions to ensure that SpaceX is getting ready for this historic milestone for Americans and the entire world. While still discussing the number of propellant transfer flights, NASA’s Amit Kshatriya, deputy associate administrator for the agency’s Moon to Mars Program suggested that its Agency and SpaceX are working on multiple models and analyses to figure out what refueling Starship in space will require.
“But the rubber’s gonna meet the road when we actually try and do this in orbit,” Kshatriya said. “SpaceX has been extremely transparent with us, and we’ve been sharing a lot of data with them about our own challenges in terms of cryogenic refueling.”
Kshatriya also said that NASA and SpaceX will conduct a propellant transfer test and also conduct an uncrewed landing test on the moon using the Starship before commencing with the Artemis 3 mission in 2026. Hence, the future of exploring the moon is already looking interesting based on these shared updates.
Kshatriya added that, in addition to propellant transfer tests, the agency wants to conduct an uncrewed landing test on the moon with Starship prior to Artemis 3.