Last year, Artemis I successfully flew around the Moon putting the Orion capsule that will one day carry humans to the test. The first human-grade capsule to go into deep space in 50 years needs to be as safe as possible, so since coming back to Earth in one piece NASA has been looking at it in detail for potential flaws. It turns out, one has appeared and is currently being investigated. Unfortunately, this may push the next moon launch, the first with a crew since 1972, from its current November 2024 schedule.
The heat shield that protects the capsule from burning up during reentry was eroded more than expected. This shield deals with the friction of the capsule entering back into the atmosphere, and since it gets half as hot as the surface of the Sun, it needs to withstand that and more to keep the astronauts safe so NASA is taking this extremely seriously. And that requires time.
The material used, called AVCOAT, is installed in large blocks. It has been extensively tested on Earth but Artemis I had to be uncrewed to carry out a test in actual space conditions without risking human lives. Spacenews reports that NASA plans to have a clear idea and solution for the heat shield erosion by late next spring.
If all is sorted, Artemis II is currently expected to launch in a year's time, taking humans into deep space around the Moon for the first time in half a century. So far, it remains on schedule and NASA is pressing forward although it is open to postponing the launch if need be.
A postponement of Artemis II will also affect Artemis III, the mission to return humans to the surface of the Moon. Currently scheduled for a 2025 launch, the repeated explosions of SpaceX's Starship rocket tests make this timeframe look more and more unlikely. Starship is the current system contracted by NASA to ferry astronauts from lunar orbit to the Moon for the Artemis missions. In the future, NASA will also be able to choose from Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin as it became the second private space company to win a contract with NASA to provide a future human lunar landing system earlier this year.