NASA's mission to the moon starts to come together as the agency taps Maxar Technologies for the first piece of its lunar space station Gateway.
Maxar Selected To Build First Gateway Element
The satellite manufacturer, that created the robotic arm of the International Space Station, will be building the power and propulsion module, which is expected to be Gateway's foundation as it orbits the moon.
"It will be the key component upon which we will build our lunar Gateway outpost, the cornerstone of NASA's sustainable and reusable Artemis exploration architecture on and around the Moon," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a news release.
The element to be developed by Maxar is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft with three times more power than current capabilities. It will allow the Gateway to carry out its role as a mobile command and service station with communication relay capabilities for lunar missions.
According to project manager Mike Barrett of NASA's Glenn Research Center, solar electric propulsion is especially efficient, making it the ideal choice for Gateway.
"This system requires much less propellant than traditional chemical systems, which will allow the Gateway to move more mass around the Moon, like a human landing system and large modules for living and working in orbit," he explained.
Maxar's 12-month base contract with NASA is valued at $375 million with several extension options over the next five years. The design of the spacecraft will be completed during the base period, while the development, launch, and in-space flight demonstration will take place upon extensions.
NASA is slated to launch the power and propulsion element on a commercial rocket in 2022.
More About NASA's Gateway
Lunar outpost Gateway is part of NASA's Artemis mission, which aims to send astronauts back to the moon by 2024. By 2028, the space agency hopes to have established a human presence on the moon for scientific, technological, and economic purposes.
Gateway is a crucial part of the plan as a spaceship that will essentially serve as astronauts' home base in space. It will orbit the moon at a distance of just 250,000 miles from Earth, roughly a five-day journey.
While the Gateway will be much smaller than the International Space Station and astronauts will not be living there, the lunar outpost will have living quarters, laboratories, and even loading docks for visiting vehicles.
Not only will it be a home base for humans and robots in lunar missions, but the Gateway is also envisioned to serve Mars missions in the future.