National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) goal of returning to the moon should see a major push in early 2019 when the agency awards its first contract for the lunar “Gateway” program.
The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is Nasa’s planned “staging” area intended for studies of the moon and the deep-space environment. Eventually, it will function as a way station for astronauts travelling to and from Mars.
Nasa’s first spending for the platform will be for power and propulsion elements early next year, followed by habitation components, Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier said at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They will probably be launched moonward, in that order, starting in 2022.
The platform should be orbiting the moon in 2025, said Gerstenmaier, a 41-year Nasa veteran who oversees human exploration and operations. It will carry a four-astronaut crew on 30-day missions, he said.
The Gateway would also further Nasa’s goal of another human landing on the moon and will help determine whether water near the surface could be used to manufacture propellant for deep-space missions. The moon’s gravity could also help a spacecraft reduce the blistering speeds used for six-month voyages back-and-forth to Mars, thus facilitating re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere.
In November, NASA selected five companies to study a high-power solar-electric propulsion system to use in deep-space missions, including the lunar platform. Future human missions will require a power system that has triple the capability of current designs.