NASA’s goal of returning to the moon is expected to materialize in early 2019, when the agency will award its first contract for the lunar program “Gateway”.
The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is a space station that NASA intends to build for the study of the Moon and the space environment. It could also serve as a gateway (hence the name “Gateway”) for astronauts traveling to and from Mars.
NASA’s first investment for this platform will be for propulsion and power elements early next year, followed by the residential components, said William H. Gerstenmaier, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operation.
The space station is expected to start orbiting the moon by 2025, said Gerstenmaier. It will carry a crew of four astronauts for 30-day missions, he added.
The bridge would also achieve NASA’s goal of making another human landing on the moon and help determine whether water near the lunar surface could be used to make propellant for missions to the moon and deep space. The gravity of the Moon could also help passing spacecraft reduce the rampant speeds needed for the six-month long trips to and from Mars, making it easier to return to Earth’s atmosphere.
“We want to understand the orbital mechanics around the moon, a little better, far from Earth’s gravity,” he said. “Doing things in this region, where gravity is not so important… is a different way to operate.”
Last November, NASA selected five companies to study a solar powered propulsion system for use in deep space missions, including the lunar platform. Future human missions will indeed require a power system that has three times the capacity of current designs.
Travel to the “Gateway” will be aboard the Orion, a spacecraft assembled by Lockheed Martin, whose service module is provided by the European Space Agency.
The first flight of Orion, unmanned, is scheduled for next year. The machine will serve as a control bridge when anchored to the lunar platform.