NASA has tapped a type of SpaceX cargo craft that hasn’t yet been built to deliver supplies to a moon-orbiting outpost that hasn’t yet been launched.
SpaceX’s robotic Dragon XL, a cylindrical, supersized version of its workhorse Dragon spacecraft, will handle shipments to the Gateway space platform as the first commercial provider to receive a Gateway Logistics Services contract from NASA.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Not everyone has signed on the dotted line to join NASA’s plan to start sending astronauts to the moon in 2024 via an outpost in lunar orbit known as the Gateway, but the world’s leading space agencies are already staking out their roles.
Russia, for example, plans to work on its own space transportation system that would parallel NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion crew capsule. Europe and Japan are planning to provide logistical support for space operations. And Canada will be supplying the Gateway’s robotic arm.
Space agency officials laid out the status of their plans for the final frontier today during a panel discussion and follow-up news briefing at the International Astronautical Congress in Washington.
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin says there’s no need for the lunar-orbiting Gateway outpost that plays a key role in NASA’s vision to land astronauts on the moon by 2024.
Instead, he envisions a differently configured transportation system that makes use of commercial rockets under the leadership of a “Space Exploration Alliance” that includes China as well as NASA’s current partners.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine today announced that the first major component for a future mini-space station in lunar orbit will be provided by Maxar Technologies, formerly known as SSL.
“The contractor that will be building that element is … drum roll … Maxar,” Bridenstine said during a talk at the Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, south of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “Maxar is going to be building that for the United States of America.”
Colorado-based Maxar will build the Power and Propulsion Element, or PPE, which will house the 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion system as well as the communications relay system for the Gateway space platform. “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,” Bridenstine said in a NASA news release.
The Gateway is destined to be the staging point for astronauts heading down to the lunar surface by as early as 2024. To meet that five-year deadline, the Gateway will have only one other component by that time, known as the mini-habitation module. NASA and its international partners expect to add more modules in the years that follow, leading up to a “sustainable” lunar presence by 2028.
It’s almost as if Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos knew what was coming: His Blue Origin space venture is among 11 companies selected by NASA to conduct studies and produce prototypes of spacecraft that could carry astronauts down to the moon’s south polar region and back up by 2024.
During a pep talk to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Texas, Vice President Mike Pence today highlighted what he saw as the mistakes of past space policy and touted an ambitious plan to put American astronauts on a new space station in lunar orbit by the end of 2024.
Pence said the Trump administration was working with Congress on a $500 million initiative to move NASA’s Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway “from proposal to production.” The first element of the outpost, known as the Power and Propulsion Element, is due for launch in 2022.
NASA’s first crewed launch of its heavy-lift Space Launch System rocket is currently scheduled for 2023. That mission would send astronauts around the moon and back in an Orion deep-space capsule. Pence suggested that a follow-up SLS launch would send astronauts to dock with the Gateway sometime during the following year.
“Our administration is working tirelessly to put an American crew aboard the Lunar Orbital Platform before the end of 2024. … It’s not a question of if. It’s just a question of when,” Pence told the audience at Johnson Space Center.
NASA has laid out its plan for acquiring the first piece of its successor to the International Space Station, an outpost known as the Gateway that will be stationed in lunar orbit.
A draft solicitation, published today, calls for commercial partners to build one or more candidates to serve as the Gateway’s power and propulsion element, with launch set for 2022.
The Power and Propulsion Element would have a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion system capable of maintaining the Gateway’s position and moving it between different lunar orbits as needed. The spacecraft would also serve as the Gateway’s communications hub.
There’s be an in-space flight demonstration of the commercial spacecraft, lasting for up to a year. Then NASA could exercise an option to acquire one spacecraft for use as the first element of the Gateway.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Sierra Nevada Corp. is showing off a prototype of its Dream Chaser space plane, but its focus is quickly shifting to building the real thing to send to orbit.
And as if that’s not enough, there’s an orbital power plant and space habitat to work on as well.
SNC executives provided what they promised would be a series of status reports today here at the 34th Space Symposium, in front of the engineering test vehicle for the Dream Chaser program.
The 30-foot-long, stubby-winged plane was built for atmospheric tests, to check the aerodynamics and flight control systems for an autonomous mini-space shuttle that will be capable of ferrying cargo to and from the International Space Station starting in 2020.
“We like ‘outposts,’” NanoRacks CEO Jeffrey Manber told GeekWire.
The space outposts that Manber has in mind, at least to start out with, are converted Centaur upper stages — the rocket boosters that sit atop the first stage of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket.
NanoRacks’ concept calls for refurbishing the insides of a Centaur upper stage after it’s finished delivering an Atlas payload to its proper orbit, so that it can be reused as an orbital habitat. The work could be done by a crew on the International Space Station, or by a robot.