NASA has announced that it will rely on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the first elements of its future Moon-orbiting space station. The initial core sections of the gateway, including the habitation unit and propulsion element, are currently expected to launch no earlier than May 2024. A key element in the architecture of the Artemis program is a Moon-orbiting space station known as the Gateway.
Upon completion, the Gateway space station will be roughly a sixth the size of the International Space Station, and like the ISS, it will be capable of shifting its orbit to meet mission needs and if necessary, to avoid hazardous objects. The new space station will serve as a rendezvous point for missions to the Moon, and eventually for forays deeper into the Solar System.
Currently, development is focused on the future station’s Habitation and Logistics Outpost – which will be supplied by Northrop Grumman – and the Power and Propulsion Element, which is being designed and fabricated by Maxar Technologies.
The HALO section will be a pressurized module housing the future crew’s living quarters. This crewed section will be supported by the PPE element, which will provide the HALO module with power, high-speed communications and other vital resources.
NASA recently announced that it had awarded SpaceX with a lucrative contract to launch the first elements of the future outpost. The $331.8 million dollar contract will see the two space station modules launched into orbit nestled safely inside the protective shroud of a Falcon Heavy rocket. Which is the largest heavy lift rocket available at the moment that is flight proven.
The substantial sum covers the purchase of the rocket, along with costs relating to the launch and other mission expenses. According to a NASA press release, the launch is sceduled to happen no earlier than May 2024.
Of course, the agency has a habit of setting extremely ambitious targets for the launches of complex missions … targets that are often missed when unforeseen delays happen and problems arise.
On top of contending with the challenges of delivering the sections of a human rated space station, both Northrop Grumman and Maxar Technologies will be forced to handle the disruptive nature of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
Hopefully the Gateway space station will be build on schedule which will make way for a return to the surface of the moon after that.
The Lunar Gateway Space Station has been a controversial project since its inception, with its critics saying that the space industry should be focused on putting human on Mars which many feel is long overdue.