Wednesday, April 25, 2018

NASA 'Gateway' Moon Orbital Space Station: Start of Construction Contracts

Orion visiting Deep Space Gateway.jpg
The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in lunar orbit as imagined in 2017.
(Image Sources: NASA,; By NASA? -, Public Domain,

By Glenn A. Walsh
Reporting for SpaceWatchtower

NASA has begun seeking construction contracts for construction of a new crewed space station, this time a space station orbiting Earth's Moon. The “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway” is expected to be completed by 2025.

The announcement of the first contract being sought by NASA for the new space station was announced last week by NASA Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations William Gerstenmaier at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, as reported by Bloomberg News.

Once habitable, the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is not to be staffed continually, as is Earth's International Space Station (ISS). Rather, it will be designed to house four astronauts / cosmonauts for 30 to 60-day missions, for the study of the deep-space environment – for observations outside of the Earth's magnetosphere which may not be possible in Earth orbit.

This new lunar orbital outpost will allow for future missions (including both human and robotic missions) on the Moon, as well as being a way-station for deep-space missions to Mars, and perhaps the Asteroid Belt.

As with the ISS, this new space station will be an international venture. In addition to NASA, other national space agencies involved in this project include the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), European Space Agency (ESA), Japanese Space Agency (JAXA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).

In addition to the aforementioned ISS partners, there is an interest to work with other nations, no matter how small their space agency. NASA Associate Administrator Gerstenmaier, during a Space Transportation Association luncheon on March 5, mentioned Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates as two countries that have expressed an interest in participating in this new project. Additionally, the several private space companies that are now working with NASA could also become involved in the project.

As with the ISS, China would not be involved with the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. China, which is considering building its own second space station in Earth orbit, as well as plans to land people on the Moon, has a space program which is controlled by the country's military. Only nations with non-military space programs can be involved in the ISS, and now with the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway.

The first construction contract being sought by NASA is for the space station's high-power and propulsion element. The power and propulsion element will provide solar electric propulsion so the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway can maintain and adjust its lunar orbit.

The power element will also allow for communication between the space station and Earth, Moon, other spacecraft, and astronauts during extra-vehicular activity (EVA: i.e. space-walks). For greater efficiency of larger data packages, laser communication will be used instead of radio.

Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Space Systems / Loral are the five firms competing for the power and propulsion element contract. NASA expects to award the contract early next year.

Other modules for later contracts include the habitation space, an airlock, and a logistics module for experiments. The launch of the power and propulsion element, expected in 2022, will mark the beginning of construction of the space station.

The Orion space capsule, being developed by NASA and Lockheed Martin, will provide transport to the new space station aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, also being developed by NASA. The first unmanned test flight of Orion is planned for next year, when the spacecraft will orbit the Moon. A crewed test flight of Orion is anticipated in 2023.

By having a space station in lunar orbit, NASA sees this as part of its goal of landing people on Mars in the 2030s. One advantage of such a lunar way-station is that the Moon's gravity can be used to slow-down spacecraft returning from Mars.

Internet Links to Additional Information ---

Lunar Orbital Platform - Gateway:
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NASA's Deep Space Exploration Planning:
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Source: Glenn A. Walsh Reporting for SpaceWatchtower, a project of Friends of the Zeiss.
             2018 April 25.

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