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NASA’s Moon-orbiting space station will begin construction thanks to SpaceX

Published Feb 15th, 2021 10:15PM EST
lunar gateway
Image: NASA

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  • NASA’s Lunar Gateway is a major part of the Artemis program that will eventually send astronauts to the surface of the Moon.
  • The gateway will be an orbiting space station located around the Moon, and it will serve as a sort of jumping-off point for missions to and from the lunar surface.
  • Construction of the gateway was originally planned to be started once NASA’s Space Launch System was ready, but NASA will instead begin construction with the help of SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy rocket.

NASA really, really wants to send humans back to the surface of the Moon, and it wants to accomplish that monumental task by 2024. Doing so will be difficult, especially with the setbacks that 2020 brought with it, but NASA hasn’t budged in its insistence that reaching the finish line by 2024 is indeed possible. One of the other huge parts of the Artemis program is the Lunar Gateway, which will be a Moon-orbiting space station that will be a temporary home for astronauts as they travel to and from the Moon.

The Lunar Gateway is a monumental undertaking, and NASA originally planned to begin constructing it once the Space Launch System rocket platform was ready for showtime. Unfortunately, setbacks in the development of that rocket have put NASA in a tough spot, but SpaceX may be coming to the rescue. It’s now been announced that NASA will pay SpaceX over $330 million to help begin getting the components of the Gateway into space.

SpaceX regularly launches hardware into space, but it usually does so using its Falcon 9 rockets. Those rockets, while powerful, aren’t beefy enough to allow the construction of a space station to begin, so SpaceX will instead be using its Falcon Heavy rocket, which is much more powerful but also much more costly. That’s where the $330 million price tag comes in.

NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the foundational elements of the Gateway. As the first long-term orbiting outpost around the Moon, the Gateway is critical to supporting sustainable astronauts missions under the agency’s Artemis program.

Those two components are essentially the core of what will eventually be the Lunar Gateway. In the future, NASA imagines that spacecraft will fly to the Gateway, dock there, and then travel to and from the Lunar Surface using a separate vehicle. Then, when work on the surface is complete, they would fly back to the Gateway, dock that spacecraft, and head home in the same ship they arrived in. If NASA can pull it off, it could make trips to the Moon not only more convenient but also cheaper. Of course, that assumes the thing gets built in the first place.