Over the past decade, NASA has been developing new systems to allow humans to go back to exploring space. The boom of private space companies like SpaceX gives a bigger incentive to develop deep space programs for exploration and research. One such endeavor is the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G or Gateway for short), which will alleviate issues with manned launches to worlds outside of the Earth-Moon system.
The Gateway project was brought to the table in Congress earlier this year, which was passed with $530 million specifically allotted for the 2019 fiscal year. This will allow NASA to get started on making various components for the Gateway. The Gateway will be in orbit around the moon, which will help NASA scientists as well as commercial and international organizations conduct missions on and around the moon and prepare missions for Mars and beyond. The plan is to send the first “power and propulsion element” in 2022. This module will be powered by solar panels, which will also be used as part of the electrical propulsion system. The next part of the project will focus on habitation modules that will allow potential crew to live and work at the station for up to 2 months at a time. These two modules will be used as the base for the Gateway and more modules may be added in the future to support specific activities like space walks. However, NASA stated that they will rely on the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft to conduct missions in deep space. The SLS program is not known for being timely in terms of development, as it faced numerous delays over the past eight years. Regardless, the Gateway is an interesting proposal for expanding our reach into the solar system, but time and funding will definitely play a huge role in the realization of this project (1).
NASA also published a more technical look at the Gateway station. The main purpose of the lunar station is to serve as staging ground for missions. Missions may include manned landing on the moon, lunar landers and rovers, and preparing spacecraft for Mars missions. The tentative budget allocates about $900 million each year for the Gateway itself, possible lunar missions, and development of exploration systems. The power/propulsion and habitation modules would be joined by a logistics module for docking and an airlock for spacewalks (2).
Additionally, NASA started a competition for various concepts revolving around the standard operation of the Gateway. The potential proposals include:
- Gateway Uncrewed Utilization & Operations
- Gateway-Based Human Lunar Surface Access
- Gateway Logistics as a Science Platform
- Gateway-Based Cislunar Tug (3)
The first concept should show what kind of work the station can do on its own without a crew. The second concept would illustrate how a crew might get down to the moon from the station, and in what vehicle. The logistical concept will deal with what kind of science is performed on the station and how it is implemented. The Cis-Lunar Tug concept would show how to transport payloads from the moon to the station and vice versa (4).