NASA, ESA Announced Artemis Gateway Partnership for Refueling, Habitation

NASA and ESA have formalized a partnership to design and operate key features of the lunar Gateway.
Brad Bergan

NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have formalized a new agreement to collaborate on the Artemis Gateway, according to a press release shared on NASA's official website.

This agreement is a critical part of a broader aim of the U.S. to bring international partners into the fold for sustainable lunar exploration, with hopes to demonstrate key technological advances needed for any future human mission to Mars.


NASA, ESA finalize new partnership on Artemis Gateway

The new agreement was signed Tuesday, and marks NASA's first official commitment to launch an international crew to the moon's vicinity amid the agency's Artemis missions.

The agreement is a crucial part of NASA's aims to lead an unprecedented worldwide effort to the moon. Further Gateway agreements with other international partners will likely form in the near future — which will help advance the dynamic capacities of sustainable lunar exploration architecture, according to the press release.

The ESA's role in the agreement includes contributing the habitation and refueling modules — in addition to enhanced lunar communications — to the lunar Gateway. The refueling module will come with integrated crew observation windows.

Additionally, the ESA will manage operations of the Gateway elements it contributes to the larger mission. ESA will also contribute two European Service Modules (ESMs) for NASA's Orion spacecraft. The ESMs will serve as propulsion and power sources for the Orion spacecraft in space during future Artemis missions — and also provide air and water for the crew.

"This partnership leverages the outstanding cooperation established by the International Space Station as we push forward to the Moon," said Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator. "Gateway will continue to expand NASA's cooperation with the international partners like ESA, ensuring the Artemis program results in the safe and sustainable exploration of the Moon after the initial human lunar landing and beyond."

New Gateway partners to foster robust mission parameters

Japan aims to contribute two docking ports to the International Habitation module (I-Hab) — where human landing systems may coalesce. The habitation module will also house the outpost's Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS), in addition to equipment for external and internal science experiments — while providing additional crew work and living space.

I-Hab's ECLSS will enhance Gateway's life support system enabled via the Orion spacecraft while docked — which will provide longer durations of docking time at the Gateway and help in the execution of more robust Artemis missions to the lunar surface.

"The Gateway is designed to be supplemental by additional capabilities provided by our international partners to support sustainable exploration," said NASA's Associate Administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate Kathy Lueders. "Gateway is going to give us access to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before and we're pleased that partners like ESA will join us on these groundbreaking efforts."

Gateway to serve as pre-lunar rendezvous hub

The Gateway will undergo assembly in lunar orbit as the main staging point for further mission to the moon's surface, Mars, and ventures into deep space destinations. Roughly one-sixth the scale of the International Space Station, the Gateway will function as a critical way station tens of thousands of miles from the lunar surface — following a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit — where NASA and its commercial and international partners will launch robotic and human expeditions to and near both the moon and Mars.

Additionally, the Gateway will serve as a point of rendezvous for astronauts on their way to lunar orbit aboard NASA's forthcoming Space Launch System (SLS), in addition to Orion — before transiting to low-lunar orbit and the low-gravity surface itself.

Gateway heralds new age of international, commercial lunar efforts

"Gateway is the physical manifestation of the international and commercial partnerships that will be the hallmark of the Artemis era of exploration," said NASA's Acting Associate Administrator of the Office of International and Interagency Relations Mike Gold. "Artemis will harness the largest and most diverse human space exploration coalition in history, and the signing of this MOU is the first step in what will be a historic journey of discovery."

As the next phase of human space exploration — where international and commercial partners play crucial roles in furthing human interests in space beyond low-Earth orbit — we should expect to see more and more nations represented in the many upcoming firsts as we return to deep space.

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