NASA just contracted SpaceX to launch the agency's initial elements for the lunar Gateway, according to a new press release shared on NASA's official website.
NASA grants SpaceX contract to launch first elements of lunar Gateway
SpaceX will launch NASA's Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) — both crucial to the early stages of the forthcoming Gateway, according to the agency press release. The Gateway will support the ability for astronaut missions to build a sustainable presence as part of NASA's Artemis endeavor.
Once PPE and HALO are assembled on Earth, the two projects are slated to launch together "no earlier than May 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket," according to the press release. The Falcon Heavy lunar package will lift off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, in Florida.
Combined, NASA's cost is roughly $331.8 million — including both the launch service and miscellaneous mission costs.
NASA's HALO to support science missions, supplement life support for Orion
The PPE is an electric propulsion spacecraft capable of 60 kilowatts, which will supply power, attitude control, high-speed communications, and the ability to reposition Gateway to suit varying lunar orbits. This will enable astronauts to access more of the moon's surface than crewed lunar missions of the past.
The HALO will serve as the pressurized living quarters for astronauts visiting the Gateway — typically on their way to the lunar surface, according to the NASA press release. The HALO will offer command and control, in addition to functioning as a docking hub for the forthcoming outpost.
Notably, HALO will also support scientific research, provide communications for visiting spacecraft and human excursions on the moon's surface, distribute power, and offer supplemental life support systems for Orion — NASA's forthcoming spacecraft designed to transport astronauts of the Artemis program to the Gateway.
Public-private partnership between NASA and SpaceX deepening
Roughly one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, the lunar Gateway will serve as a cosmic way station for traveling astronauts — tens of thousands of miles from the lunar surface at its farthest near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon. The future space station will function as a place for Artemis astronauts to rendezvous before transiting to low-lunar orbit, and the moon's surface itself.
From within the Gateway, NASA and its commercial and international partners will commence new explorations of deep space, through science and technology.
The initial SpaceX launches will fall under NASA's Launch Services Program at Kennedy. As of writing, PPE is under construction at Maxar Technologies in Westminster, Colorado — while HALO is in the design and build stages at Northrup Grumman Space Systems of Dulles, Virginia. But with NASA's latest contract with SpaceX — in short, trusting a private aerospace company to take the initial stages of putting the humans on the moon again — the public-private partnership is deepening.
This was a breaking story and was regularly updated as new information became available.