NASA is considering sending humans to the Moon again. To achieve that, the space agency will also put an outpost in orbit around the Moon. This will also advance capabilities of human space exploration farther from Earth, such as plans to send astronauts to Mars.
The space station will be called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and it will be located in orbit around the Moon. It is designed to be ready for human habitation by 2023.
Similar to the International Space Station, or ISS, it will be assembled in space over time. The first module will be a power and propulsion system, planned for launch in 2022.
The space station is planned to use high-power solar electric propulsion to preserve the position of the platform in a lunar orbit. It will also be capable of shifting the orbit closer to or away from the Moon, depending on science and exploration objectives.
Another proficiency of the module will be to operate as a hi-tech communications platform to relay between Earth, space, the Moon and other spacecraft. It will also transfer large amounts of data using lasers.
Five companies completing studies
At the moment, there are five companies completing four-month studies, as part of NASA’s public-private partnership, to develop this module in an economical way.
NASA is also thinking of partnerships for other elements of the gateway, such as logistics, airlocks and habitation modules. NASA’s approaching Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, or commercial rockets, could also be used for the launch of the elements into space for assembly.
The platform will consist of at least a power and propulsion element and habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities. Specific technical and mission capabilities, as well as partnership opportunities are under consideration, NASA plans to launch elements of the gateway on the agency’s Space Launch System or commercial rockets for assembly in space.
“The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”
Live and work in space 30 to 60 days
Habitation capabilities launching in 2023 are planned to further enhance NASA’s abilities for science, exploration, and commercial and international use. The gateway’s habitation capabilities will be informed by NextSTEP, the agency’s public-private partnership work under Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships.
It will also be informed by studies with the International Space Station partners. It is estimated that crew aboard the gateway could live and work in deep space for up to 30 to 60 days at a time with this capability.
It is also planned that crew will participate in different deep space exploration and commercial activities near the Moon, including possible missions to the lunar surface. NASA also wants to use the gateway for scientific investigations near and on the Moon.