Published: April 25, 2018 5:44:00 PM
NASA's goal to return to the Moon should see a big boost in early 2019 when the agency awards its first order for the Moon Gateway program. The Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway is NASA's planned "staging area" dedicated to the study of the Moon and space. Eventually, it will function as a stopover for astronauts traveling to and from Mars.
NASA's first releases for the platform will be for driveline and powertrain early next year, followed by housing components, said associate administrator William Gerstenmaier at the Thursday Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They are likely to be launched in the order of Mondward, starting in 2022. The platform should orbit the moon in 2025, said Gerstenmaier, a 41-year-old NASA veteran who oversees human exploration and operations. It will accompany a four-astronaut crew on 30-day missions, he said.
The "Gateway" would also support NASA's goal for another human landing on the Moon and help determine if nearby water could be used to manufacture propellant gas for space missions. The moon's gravity could also help a spaceship reduce the bubble speed used for six-month voyages to Mars, facilitating re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. "We want to understand the orbital mechanics around the Moon," a bit better, far from the earth's deep gravitational source, 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-electric propulsion system for deep-sea applications of space missions, including the lunar platform. Future human missions require an energy system that has three times the capacity of current designs. Travels to the Gateway will be aboard the Orion, a spacecraft assembled by Lockheed Martin Corp, with the service module supplied by 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 with the platform.
"As long as we see the moon as a springboard and not a final target, I think we're fine," Gernstenmaier said. NASA is also examining how to continue the US presence in 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."
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