NASA calls for aid from commercial space companies for Gateway deliveries

NASA seeks for proposals from commercial companies that will provide cargo transportation services for Gateway — a lunar orbital spacecraft that will be a middle point for the Moon and deep space exploration.

The Gateway Logistics Services request for proposals (RFP) is offering up to $7 billion in contracts to support operations of the much-needed transportation of materials to construct the lunar Gateway. Proposals are due to NASA on October 1, with the agency expected to award one or more contracts before the end of the calendar year.

Private entities who will be willing to take part and contribute to the delivery of NASA’s goods will at least take on 3,400 kilograms of pressurized cargo and 1,000 kilograms of unpressurized cargo to the Gateway on each mission. Likewise, they will also be required to dispose of at least as much pressurized and unpressurized cargo as it delivers to the Gateway.

In accordance, NASA’s RFP proposal indicates that responsible entities will be paid via a fixed firm price contract with milestone payment schedules. For anyone familiar with procedures that follow payload deployment to the International Space Station, services provided for the Gateway will be similar.

Furthermore, the payment schedule included in the RFP sees to provide 75 percent of the payment of each mission before launch.

Source: NASA

Gateway is an ambitious space infrastructure that is envisioned to become a hub for astronauts that wishes to explore the surface of the Moon that can extend its services to deep space.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has likened the Gateway to the command and service modules of the Apollo spacecraft saying: “Think of a small space station in orbit around the Moon, a reusable command and service module that will be in orbit around the Moon for 15 years, at least,” Bridenstine said at the Marshall Space Flight Center.

Initially, Gateway is meant to be constructed for NASA’s 2024 mission, which aims to return to the Moon along with the first woman Moon-walker called “Artemis.” Additionally, Gateway is one of many projects the agency has planned to achieve the feat.

Just last month, mission planners from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have calculated the best orbit for the next-generation space station. In other words, months of deliberation has finally resulted in a particular pattern that the Gateway should follow to achieve optimum results.

The lunar Gateway will follow an elliptical path known as a Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit instead of tracing a low, circular orbit around the Moon as the Apollo spacecraft embarked.

Doing so, Gateway will pass through a so-called Lagrangian point, where the forces between the Earth and the Moon are balanced against the centripetal force of orbital motion.

Following this orbit, astronauts will be able to make round trips to and from the Moon every seven days — when the station is closest to the Moon, only 1,860 miles (2,993km) distant via a lunar lander.

The lander could also be used to transport equipment, robots, and building infrastructure to the lunar surface.

In contrast, the station’s farthest point from the Moon, which is approximately 43,000 miles (69,202km), will provide better observations into deep space and granting easier access to the Earth.

Ahead of the other infrastructure needed for a successful 2024 Artemis mission launch, Gateway had the least progress, by far. The Trump administration and Congress have provided funding for the project with $19.5 billion in 2018 and $19.9 billion for 2019.

Despite the large amounts of funding, the project remains to be estimated to cost at around $30 billion, which is why NASA is constantly looking for aid from private entities such as commercial companies to assist them with their endeavor.

In priority, the design for the 55-ton orbiting station consists of several components: a power and propulsion unit, a habitat module to house astronauts, an airlock section where spacecraft will dock, and a massive robotic arm.

The RFP is the latest step in NASA’s development of the lunar Gateway, which emphasizes the use of commercial services and partnerships.

In particular, the first section NASA wants to finish is the power and propulsion element, currently scheduled to deploy in 2022, which NASA awarded to Maxar with a $375 million contract. The element will be owned by Maxar throughout the contract, at the end of which NASA will have the option to purchase it for use on the Gateway.

Just recently in July, NASA announced its intent to award a sole-source contract to Northrop Grumman to build the “mini-hab” module for the Gateway, that will serve as an initial habitation module. 

NASA intended to use an existing Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships 2 (NextSTEP-2) program to procure the habitation module.

Under NextSTEP-2, NASA chose Northrop Grumman from a pool of other companies from an August 2016 competition along with five other companies: Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, NanoRacks, Orbital ATK, and Sierra Nevada Corporation. 

As of the moment, NASA wants Gateway up and running by 2024, and will be ready to host astronauts and equipment by 2026. In the future, the agency deems Gateway as an outpost for deep space science and exploration, including a manned mission to Mars by 2030.

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