The first contract to build components of the "Gateway" will be awarded next year.
NASA's goal of returning to the moon was due to arrive in early 1969, when the agency issued its first order for the "Gateway" program on the Moon.
The Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway is NASA's planned "staging" for exploration of the Moon and the space environment. Eventually it will function as a stopover for astronauts traveling to and from Mars.
NASA's first issues for the platform will be for driveline and powertrain early next year, followed by housing components, associate administrator William Gerstenmaier said Thursday at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They will probably be started in this order, starting in the year 2022, moonward.
The platform was to orbit the moon in 2025, said Gerstenmaier, a 41
The gateway would also support NASA's goal for another human landing on the moon and help determine if water near the surface could be used for fuel production space missions. Moon gravity could also help a spaceship reduce the speed of six-month voyages to Mars, easing re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere.
"We want to understand the orbital mechanics around the Moon" a little better, far from the deep gravitation of the Earth, he said. "Doing things in this region where gravity is not such a big driver … is another way to work."
In November, NASA selected five companies to investigate a high-performance solar energy propulsion system for use in space missions, including the lunar platform. Future human missions will require a power system that has three times the capacity of today's designs.
Traveling to the "Gateway" will be aboard the Orion, a spacecraft owned by Lockheed Martin Corp. assembled with the service module of the European Space Agency. The first flight of the Orion, without crew, is planned for next year. The ship will serve as a command deck when docked to the platform.
"Gateway development is fast-paced and we are providing our expertise as NASA provides the industry with the know-how to accomplish this important mission," said Lockheed on Thursday in an e-mail message , The lunar platform is based on current NASA budgets and "does not require a massive new influx of funds," Gernstenmaier said, calling the realistic budget planning one of NASA's strategic principles for pioneering space.
"It has fiscal realism, and it's also adaptable," he said of the program. "It can adapt to commercial partners, it's not a rigid program of one mission following another," a nod to the Apollo program, which is known to require an aggressive flight plan that degrades each other.
"As long as we see the moon as a stepping stone and not an end goal, I think we're fine," Gernstenmaier said. NASA is also examining how to continue the US presence in a near-Earth orbit. The Trump government has proposed that 2024 stop the financing of the International Space Station by the United States. "We think this is a great place for development," said Gerstenmaier. "A big development near the moon is very expensive."