NASA selected the first commercial partner for a space station known as the Lunar Gateway, which will be built near the moon. NASA's executive director, Jim Bridenstine, said Thursday that Maxar Technologies will build the first component of the gateway – the force and momentum. As the name implies, it helps to supply electricity to the gateway and move around.
"When we go to the moon this time, we will actually stay," Bridenstine said in the announcement. He characterized a gateway that would place a balanced elliptical orbit between Earth and the Moon's gravity as a reusable "command module". Under NASA's current plan to land humans on the moon by 2024, astronauts will launch astronauts on Earth before they land on the lunar lander and down the moon's surface.
Thursday – Bridenstine provided a one-hour overview of NASA's ambitious month plan at the Florida Institute of Technology in a relatively simple contract, but the announcement marks an extension of the lunar exit plan that began under the Obama administration. Obama's space plan was to use the gateway as a stepping stone to Mars, but now the Trump Administration is pivoting towards the moon's surface.
There has been some fierce debate as to whether or not gateways that add the delta-V energy needed to reach the lunar surface in the aircraft community are helping or hindering NASA's efforts to develop sustainable deep space exploration programs. Thursday's announcement had no doubt about the White House's engagement with the project. This means that the concept of a gateway has survived successfully in the transition from one president to another.
Gateway growth possible
The deal, announced on Thursday, is worth up to $ 375 million. Interestingly, Maxar said Blue Origin and Draper will join the team in the design, production and operation of the spacecraft. This partnership raises the possibility that approximately 5 tonnes of fully powered and powered propulsion elements from Blue Origin's New Glenn rocket will be able to start up.
In a teleconference with the media, Maxar's Mike Gold said the company would choose a commercial rocket to launch power and propulsion elements in the next 12 to 18 months. Perhaps New Glen is a benign projectile, but Maxar protects himself in case the rocket is not ready for flight in 2022 when NASA wants this hardware in space. (Blue Origin is currently working towards 2021 with a strong rocket launch date, but large rocket projects often go right.)
The gateway is NASA's unique hardware in that it forms the cornerstone of the first deep space outpost. The space station uses a solar electric propulsion unit that can maintain orbit and maneuver into different orbits around the moon. In 2024, the space agency plans to add a small "habitat" module before humans visit the gateway.
NASA can extend its gateway to other modules, including modules provided by international partners for 2020 years. The official said that the power of the solar panels of the power and propulsion elements would be sufficient to accommodate the expansion of the gateways.