This will be the new Gateway space station, the “bus stop” to the Moon
The idea is to serve as a fuel and spare parts warehouse, operations center and scientific observatory. It will replace the current International Space Station (ISS), which has been active since 1998.
Gateway means “access door” in Spanish. It cannot be a more descriptive name, since it is the new space station from which NASA and other international agencies intend explore the moon and mars.
This was announced by Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA, in an article published on the Ozy portal: “We are going to the Moon with new technologies and innovative systems. A) Yes we will explore more surface locations than ever before. And we will stay.”
With this forcefulness, the representative of the US agency showed the firm will that the organization of return to the star, 50 years later of its discovery, in 1969, and to do it in a sustainable way and thinking about the long term.
Return to the Moon: why now?
One of the main reasons that can explain this sudden interest in the star is search for new resources, to replace current materials and sources, which are running out. An idea that the Australian agency had already been proposing for some time.
For this purpose, the new Gateway space station is of fundamental importance. According to Jan Wörner, director general of the European Space Agency (ESA), the new platform will be like “a bus stop” towards its exploration.
Located in lunar orbit, about 1,500 kilometers from the surface of the Moon at the closest point and 70,000 at the furthest, and 400,000 from our planet five days of travel , it will help missions from Earth make a stopover and have easier access to and study of the Moon. Something like a base camp from which to start to know the space.
An unprecedented collaboration
According to Bridenstine, something new with regard to the Apolo is that this time it is a project of global cooperation. Not just one country acts, but quite a few.
NASA is leading it, yes, but large international agencies are also participating, such as the European Space Agency (ESA), the Russian Space Agency (Roscosmos), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) or the Canadian Space Agency (CSA).
And in addition to these state organizations, there will be other collaborating partners: private businesses, which will be in charge of sending equipment and resources to the terminal. Is it a new milestone in space exploration? Perhaps the next great discoveries will not only have the respective flags of the countries, but also well known advertising brands.
Small size, like a modest apartment or a minibus
If the current International Space Station (ISS) is 388 cubic meters in size, the new Gateway space station will be considerably smaller: it will consist of only 55 cubic meters. They will be distributed in six moduleswhich will be added to the platform at different times.
The first of them, that of the propulsion and power Power and Propulsion Element or PPE will be manufactured by NASA. It will have a 40 kilometer solar electric propulsion system and two tons of xenon as fuel.
It will be the only one of the modules to take off from Earth from a commercial rocket. The intervention of private companies focuses more on providing resources and investigating possibilities: at the moment, the trip as such is not in their functions.
The second module of the new Gateway space station is for communications. Manufactured by the European Space Agency (ESA), it will bear its name in memory of Europe: “European System Providing Refueling Infrastructure and Telecom” (ESPRIT).
The third is built by the European and Japanese agencies. It is perhaps the most interesting: the habitability. It is designed to house tenants for three months maximum, a shorter time than until now is usual in the International Space Station. It is also true that its mission is different and that the concept is to serve as a launch base, not an observation base.
The fourth module will be a second cabin, while the fifth a “lock” to access outer space. For its part, the sixth is a gigantic robotic armwhich is used to carry out maintenance tasks and also as a propellant.
Dates of this ambitious project
Since 1972, no human being has set foot on the Moon. It will not be for lack of will, since the main technological powers have been sending unmanned missions for decades to make it possible.
This new space race Countries such as India or Israel have recently joined, with projects that have not been successful due to different technical difficulties. For its part, China is also redoubling its efforts to overtake the United States and be the first to send astronauts back to the star and to other planets.
The decade that begins this year 2020 is the date that NASA has indicated for this milestone. In 2019 they announced the start of construction. By the end of 2022, they intend to send the first module of the station, in charge of propulsion and energy. A year later, sending the second, of communications.
If all goes well, according to plan, in 2024 the third module would arrive, that of habitability. He would do it together with a crew of two astronauts, a man and for the first time a woman, who will descend to the surface of the Moon. In 2026 the one with the “lock” and the robotic arm.
A forecast questioned for being very optimistic
Some time ago they had communicated that the sending of people would not be done until 2028, but NASA has doubled the bet, bringing it forward. It is likely that the anticipated advance is a consequence of pressure from the Trump administration, which in 2019 asked Congress for a notable increase in investment for this operation, and that it also responds to a certain urgency in preventing another superpower, such as China, from assuming space leadership.
Yes indeed, 2028 is the year in which NASA expects the station to be completely finished. But many experts doubt that these calculations can be fulfilled. Above all, as a result of the US Congress lowering the amount of millions of dollars destined to finance the costly operation and the delays in the manufacture of the SLS rockets.
Time will tell who is right. And if it becomes a base camp for new space adventures, in which it seems that we are entering a different phase: international cooperation and private interest.