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NASA lunar 'gateway' space station to see major development soon
NASA's ambition of going back to the Moon saw a major development this year when the space agency awarded its first contract for the Lunar 'gateway' programme. The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will be a base in the Moon's orbit for studying deep-space environment. It will also serve as a station for astronauts going on a mission to Mars.
The first stage of development will include power and propulsion elements early next year, which will be followed by habitation components, said Associate Administrator William Gerstenmaier at the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The mission is slated to start in 2022.
The platform will orbit the Earth's natural satellite in 2025, confirmed Gerstenmair. It will carry four-astronaut crew on a 30-day mission, he said. The gateway will allow astronomers to determine whether water exists near the surface which can be used for propellant for deep-space missions. The Moon's gravity will also help the spacecraft reduce its speeds for a six-month mission to Mars.
"We want to understand orbital mechanics around the moon" a little better, far from the Earth's deep gravity well, said Gerstenmair. "Doing things in this region, where gravity isn't such a big driver ... is a different way of operating."
NASA has already announced that the trips to the gateway will be on the Orion spacecraft built by Lockheed Martin, and the service module supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA). The spacecraft will take its first flight next year.
"It's got fiscal realism, and it's also adaptable. It can adapt to commercial partners. It's not a rigid programme of one mission following another. As long as we view the moon as a stepping stone and not an end goal, I think we're OK," said Gerstenmair.
Recently, NASA also revealed how water is released on the Moon during meteor showers. The new study could come in handy during future explorations. The space agency gathered the data using Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (LADEE) - a robotic mission which orbited the Moon from October 2013 to April 2014.