National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) will begin awarding contracts for its lunar “Gateway” program in 2019. Dubbed as Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, the space station will help scientists better understand the deep-space environment and the moon.
According to NASA, the Gateway will allow further lunar exploration and even a staging area for exploration of the solar system. It will function as astronaut’s way station for traveling to and from Mars. NASA claims that the new space station will be open to all astronauts and cosmonauts globally similar to the International Space Station.
The first component of the gateway to launch is the power and propulsion element which is scheduled for launch in 2022. Next in line will be the habitation element which will launch in 2023. The element will aid in exploration. The launch timeline was revealed by NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operation, William Gerstenmaier, at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado.
Gerstenmaier announced that the space station is expected to start orbiting the moon by 2025. The Gateway itself will be powered by a Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system, a new technology developed by NASA. It will carry a four-astronaut crew on a 30-day mission. It will be launched using the space agency’s advanced launch vehicle, Space Launch System (SLS).
Trips to the gateway will be aboard the Orion spacecraft. The spacecraft is currently being developed by aerospace company Lockheed Martin. The service module is being provided by the European Space Agency. Notably, the first unmanned Orion test flight, dubbed Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), is planned for a 2019 launch, which will be followed by a manned test flight planned for 2023.
NASA is anticipating that future experiments will help scientists determine if water can be extracted from the lunar surface to create propellant for missions even deeper into space.