Lunar Gateway is moving ahead as planned despite initial difficulties

NASA says that development for the lunar Gateway is moving ahead as planned despite difficulties encountered in the past.

Speaking at the panel discussion of the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium in Huntsville, Alabama, September 11, NASA officials said that two vital elements in the construction of the Gateway are progressing as planned.

Particularly, NASA officials were referring to the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element or PPE and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost or HALO.

Significantly, NASA has already awarded a contract to a private and commercial company for the development of the PPE while the latter is also slated to be awarded soon.

The Lunar Gateway is intended to be a way-station between the Earth and the Moon, but also to the deeper parts of the solar system and beyond.

Like the ISS, the Gateway will be orbiting the moon and will consist of multiple modules serving specific purposes, all docked together into a space station that will serve as a staging area for both crewed and robotic missions. The Gateway will also be a collaborative station, with corporations and agencies from multiple nations contributing hardware

Unlike the ISS, though, the Gateway will be fairly limited in size and therefore in the scope of missions, it will host. Although it will have room to accommodate small crews for up to three months at a time, there is no intention to keep the Gateway permanently crewed like the ISS.

Notably, NASA is intent on staying on track of the construction of the Gateway because it will be a vital step towards NASA’s 2024 mission Artemis, which aims to send humans back to space.

However, the advanced date, which the United States Vice President Mike Pence requested to expedite in 2024 has resulted in NASA cutting a few corners to meet.

A few months back, NASA announced to its International partners that they would also need to double time on the development of the Gateway. Thus, for the 2024 Artemis mission, only a partial Gateway will be used.

Fortunately, NASA’s international partners from Japan, the European Space Agency, and the likes have released a joint statement indicating that they will comply with the schedule and contribute hardware necessary to put up the Gateway.

Respectively, NASA is responsible for the development and construction of the PPE and HALO.

“I can tell you both the PPE and the HALO have production movement,” said Dan Hartman, program manager for the Gateway at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, using the acronyms for those two modules. “This is real. We’ve got contracts in place and real hardware is being built.”

Recently, NASA awarded the PPE contract to Maxar Technologies in May. The module, based on the company’s 1300-series commercial satellite bus, will provide power for the Gateway and electrical propulsion.

Furthermore, Maxar Technologies also shared the same contract to Solaero to manufacture and develop Solar Power Modules (SPMs) that will supply nearly 70 kilowatts to the Gateway using its latest generation, quadruple-junction “Z4J” solar cells, which exhibit superior radiation hardness in the space environment and utilize automated assembly methods for high-volume production of satellite solar panels and modules. In other words, these SPMs are designed specifically for space applications.

The PPE is on schedule for a launch in late 2022, after which it will perform a one-year checkout. Hartman said that NASA and Maxar are working through “integration things” caused by using a commercial spacecraft with NASA hardware. “There will be some changes, and we’re starting to work through those.”

On the other hand, the second element, which is the HALO, NASA announced in a July procurement filing that it intended to award a sole-source contract to Northrop Grumman to build the habitat module after determining it was the only company that would be able to complete it in time to be used to support a 2024 human lunar landing.

Currently, HALO is scheduled for a late 2023 launch on a commercial rocket, which has yet to be selected. HALO will then dock autonomously with the PPE, something Hartman said will also be true for later elements of the Gateway.

Future elements to be added to the Gateway, as part of what NASA calls “Phase 2” post-2024, will depend on what capabilities international partners decide to pursue. In an Aug. 28 statement, ISS partners said they supported the development of the Gateway and were considering habitation modules, logistics facilities and airlocks.

“All these international partners have work to do with their governments, just like we have work to do with our government,” Hartman said. If their governments agree, he said the agreements would build upon the existing ISS intergovernmental agreement. “There are still a lot of discussions out there in front of us.”

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