NASA Gateway: the new moon-orbiting space station

nasa gateway

The NASA Gateway will bring back manned missions to the moon.

Almost five decades since man first landed on the moon, NASA is once again setting its sights on possible manned lunar missions.

In December last year, US President Donald Trump signed a policy instructing the space agency to send astronauts back to the moon. This came just months after NASA revealed plans to build a lunar-orbiting space station.

Since then, things have been in progress to make the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (we’ll just call it the NASA Gateway from now on) a reality. NASA have recently invited US industry to help build certain components of the lunar outpost as part of a private-public partnership.

Here’s everything you need to know about the new NASA Gatway:

So what exactly is this outpost?

The NASA Gateway will be a space station capable of supporting four crew members at a time. It’s expected to be smaller than the International Space Station (ISS) which currently houses six astronauts at a time.

Its aim, according to NASA, is to “become the orbital outpost for robotic and human exploration operations in deep space”, while facilitating scientific and commercial activities on and around the moon.

How will the NASA Gateway be built?

NASA's SLS rocket under construction.

NASA’s SLS rocket under construction (NASA)

NASA’s plan is to make use of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion deep-space capsule – both of which are still under construction – to transport key components of the Gateway and build it piece-by-piece in orbit.

The first piece will be the power and propulsion element (PPE). This will be used to generate electricity for the NASA Gateway and is scheduled for launch in 2022.

Provided all goes according to plan, other key components such as a crew habitat module, a robotic arm and an airlock, will follow in phased missions.

What will it do?

The station will be used as a staging point for lunar explorations and possibly facilitate manned Mars missions in the future.

According to NASA, Gateway missions will enable them “to develop new techniques and apply innovative approaches to solving problems in preparation for longer-duration missions far from Earth”.

William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, said: “The Gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system.”

How will the NASA Gateway reach the moon?

The NASA Gateway will orbit the moon

The NASA Gateway will orbit the moon (NASA)

NASA plans to assemble the Gateway in an extremely elliptical orbit which will bring the station within 930 miles (1,500 km) of the lunar surface at closest approach and as far away as 43,000 miles (70,000 km).

The elliptical orbit, expected to last for six days, will allow the NASA Gateway to stay out of the moon’s shadow to provide uninterrupted communication with Earth.

When’s it likely to happen?

Lunar Orbital Platform - NASA Gateway concept.

An artist’s impression of living in space (NASA)

If all goes according to plan, the Gateway could be ready to accommodate astronauts by the middle of the next decade, according to NASA.

Jason Crusan, NASA’s director of Advanced Exploration Systems, said: “Since the directive was issued in December to return to the moon, the agency has been moving full-steam ahead with plans for robotic and human lunar exploration.

“It’s an exciting time to be at NASA, and we look forward to partnering with US industry and international partners as we lead the return to the moon, and go beyond.”


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