NASA, along with the rest of the world, has its sights set on the Moon. Our closest neighbor and a proving ground for deep space technology, the Moon offers all the challenges of survival at a more manageable distance than Mars. As part of the Artemis program, plans are in the works for the Lunar Gateway. It sound like an impressive structure, but it’s actually a small spaceship that will obit the Moon.
The Lunar Gateway will pale in comparison to the International Space Station in terms of its size, but serve a similar purpose. Astronauts will visit the station once a year and can stay for up to three months to conduct experiments in onboard labs. It serves as a stop off point for missions to the Moon or deep space excursions. The gravity on the Moon and Mars makes travel from space to the surface more expensive and logistically difficult. Transferring supplies to an orbiting spacecraft uses less fuel. From there, materials and astronauts can make the trip to the lunar surface using specialty spacecraft designed just for that purpose.
With this in mind, NASA is looking for proposals from American companies to provide supplies to the Lunar Gateway. While NASA takes care of the crew, commercial companies will vie for the opportunity to send supplies and experiments to the Lunar Gateway, just like the International Space Station. The contract is for 15 years with a maximum award of $7 billion.
It’s all part of a larger program called Artemis. Its mission is to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024. The Space Launch System (SLS), a powerful rocket that has been in production for years, along with the Orion spacecraft are included in this mission as well. The SLS and Orion will send astronauts into space and to the Lunar Gateway.
The Artemis 1 mission, slated for 2020 will be the first uncrewed test flight of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. This will be followed by Artemis 2 in 2022 with the first crewed mission. Artemis 3 in 2024 aspires to put boots back on the Moon. Maxar Technologies is working on a power and propulsion element as a mobile command and service module. NASA is negotiating with companies for a habitation module for the Lunar Gateway.
The race is on—again—to make it to the Moon.