Inspired by a successful manned launchspacecraft to the ISS, which was made possible thanks to the development of SpaceX, NASA continues to share its ambitious plans for space exploration. Now the US aerospace agency has announced that it plans to ship the first inhabited module of the Gateway near-moon orbiting station in 3 years - in 2023. This base is very important for expeditions to the Moon, and if SpaceX really wants to return a person to the surface of the Earth’s satellite in 2024, it will be much easier to do with an orbital station. True, the construction of the lunar station will not be engaged in the company of Ilona Mask and not even Lockheed Martin.
The task was assigned to Northrop Grumman,This is an American military-industrial giant, which is not only engaged in production in the aerospace industry, but also in shipbuilding. She entered the list of companies selected by NASA for the development and production of prototypes of spacecraft for landing on the moon in May 2019. Northrop Grumman is mainly engaged in the production of heavy ships and aircraft carriers, and only the last 15 years has been developing spacecraft. Her only successful project in this industry is the Cygnus spacecraft - it was used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station after the completion of the Space Shuttle program. The last flight of the ship on the Antares-230 + launch vehicle was carried out on February 15, 2020, and after three for the ship successfully docked with the ISS.
First lunar station
Now Northrop Grumman has muchthe more difficult task is not only to launch the lunar station into space, but also to provide it with everything necessary so that later astronauts can use the Gateway as an “intermediate stop” for flights to the Earth’s satellite. Or maybe even to Mars. The first two modules of the station are scheduled to be launched in the fourth quarter of 2023. NASA planned to launch them on two different rockets, and then dock the modules in orbit, but later changed its mind - now two modules will be launched together at once. It is planned to send the station into space ... with the help of the Falcon Heavy rocket, of course! This is where SpaceX comes into play.
The module that Northrop was commissioned to createGrumman will be a kind of temporary “home” for astronauts. At the same time, according to engineers, it will be based on developments from the Cygnus spacecraft. Last year, the model of such an apparatus was already assembled and tested by the company's specialists in conjunction with NASA. The module implies the presence of four docking nodes that can receive new spacecraft from the Earth, a system of engines for maneuvering and a life support system for astronauts. The first stage of development will cost the company $ 187 million - then NASA will continue financing the project as the device is ready.
What is noteworthy, the second module near the moonthe station will be built by another company (no, not SpaceX again) - Maxar Technologies, which received a contract from NASA for $ 375 million in 2019. This module will have solar panels and equipment for communication with the Earth. That is, the US lunar station will be a "hodgepodge", the development of which will be attended by some companies, and the launch will be carried out by the third - SpaceX.
Why do we need a lunar station
Space stations in one form or anothermankind learned to create back in the 70s (we see it on the example of the ISS), however, all of them were used only in low Earth orbit. But it’s a completely different matter to build a station near the Moon, which, in fact, NASA plans to do in the near future with the support of other space agencies and private companies.
The last thing we want to visit is the surface of the moon,to prove that we can do this, and end on this. We want to stay there. Gateway will allow us to take advantage of commercial and international partners so that we stay there and explore more parts of the moon than ever before, and then move to Mars, say scientists from NASA.
Gateway should become the bridgehead of mankind into deep space. Perhaps in the future it will even replace the ISS, which they supposedly want to withdraw from orbit in the next few years.
The first Gateway, it turns out, will serve as a testbooth for the technology needed to reach Mars. Today, for example, some components of life support systems work for about six months to failure. NASA would like to bring this technology to a 30-month uptime cycle for transport in deep space. At the same time, the United States does not want to build another International Space Station, which, in comparison with the near-moon station, is located “within walking distance” from Earth, but simply make a “stopping point” where astronauts can stay for some time. It will be much cheaper.