Lunar Gateway base: NASA error or the future of space exploration?

Year: 2026. Former astronaut Nicole Mann takes his team of four through the hatch of the Orion spacecraft to a small space station near the Moon. Inside it smells like in the cabin of a new car. Outside a beautiful view. Above the station hangs the half of the moon, reflecting sunlight - silvery, quiet, glowing. Deeper in space the second half of the sphere is visible. Somewhere in the distance, the discs of green Earth and the Sun are glowing. The cradle of humanity and its future among the stars are all here.

49-year-old Mann with the call sign "Duchess" beginsa series of communications checks. A delay of two seconds heralds the response of the flight control center, after which applause and congratulations are heard. For decades after the Apollo, people remained squeezed by a low earth orbit. No more. After the Mann team spends a couple of weeks tidying up the new Gateway in the Moon’s orbit, NASA will again be able to plan missions into deep space. From here, people will be able to descend to the surface of the moon, and finish preparations for missions to Mars.


  • 1 Why NASA base in the moon orbit?
  • 2 Get to the gateway
  • 3 Arguments for
  • 4 Stuck with the Moon
  • 5 cabin requisitions
  • 6 The pressure is increasing

Why does NASA have a lunar base?

This is the scenario of the Congress, Whitehome and American society, reflecting on the lunar space station, which NASA wants to build in the 2020s. “I see it as a space port, a dry dock for ongoing activities,” says Jason Krusan, a senior NASA employee from the Gateway project development department.

Over the past three years, Krusan and othersThe human-power research leaders at NASA have sharpened and refined the Gateway plan quite well and, more importantly, developed a rationale for creating an outpost near the Moon. While their plan is working. US Vice President Mike Pense approved Gateway, as did NASA's new administrator, Jim Brydenstein.

"There is no other architecture that IWe were considering the current budgets we have to do everything we want, ”says Brydenstein. "So I came to the conclusion that Gateway is the right approach."

NASA also won the lion’s share of aerospacecontractors and the huge armies of their lobbyists, offering contracts to create six different designs of the Gateway residential module. Moreover, the agency’s representatives repeatedly repeated that they would invite commercial companies like SpaceX to deliver the cargo and service the station. Almost everyone has a good chance to grab a piece of work on Gateway.

There are not many reasons for criticsconsideration - public, in any case. But they remained and they raise reasonable questions about the lunar “Gateway”. Robert Zubrin, a high-profile aerospace engineer, became the main antagonist.

"This is a new giant leap in quicksand,"Zubrin spoke during a recent meeting with The Mars Society. “If you want to send people to the moon or to mars, would you spend money on creating a base in lunar orbit on the way? Not".

Zubrin and others claim that Gatewaythere is not to smooth the path of NASA to the Moon or Mars, but to become a target for the space agency’s launching rocket, the Space Launch System, and the Orion spacecraft. These vehicles, built for NASA by large aerospace companies with hundreds of contractors across the country, cannot just go to the Moon or Mars. Together, they are not powerful enough. NASA has been trying to come up with an excuse for ten years. Finally, it all came up against the concept of Gateway.

“Let's be honest,” says Zubrin. “This is a program that is not dictated by the goal, but by the suppliers. Imagine that you run your business to please your salespeople. ”

Get to the gateway

No need to raise the annals of the history of spacepoliticians to understand why NASA is now supporting the development of a lunar gateway, which will cost at least $ 10 billion and a maximum - much more. But a little history does not hurt.

In short everything was like this: in 2004, George Bush wanted to send people to the moon and to mars. NASA engineers, under the direction of administrator Mike Griffin, responded by developing a large, expensive system to achieve this goal, which was never properly funded. When Barack Obama became president, he abolished the return of people to the moon, because there was not enough money, and the implementation of the plan was greatly delayed. The president also canceled the development of the huge rocket and Griffin’s spacecraft. Frightened by the loss of jobs and the institutional status of NASA, Congress put pressure on Obama. Although the Moon has disappeared from the plans, NASA told us to build a large rocket - now it is called the Space Launch System - and continue to develop the Orion spacecraft.

There is a big problem. What to do with SLS and Orion? The critics began to sing that the SLS is a “rocket to nowhere” because NASA does not need it. Of course, the rocket and the apparatus can fly around the moon, repeat the Apollo 8 mission of 1968, but they cannot land on another world with gravity.

In the end, the Obama administration decided toproblem, presenting a new goal proposed by the blue-ribbon panel, known as the "Augustine" commission. "By 2025, we expect that the new spacecraft, designed for long trips, will allow us to carry out the first ever manned missions beyond the bounds of the moon into deep space," Obama said in 2010. "For the first time in history, we will send astronauts to an asteroid."

At first, the idea seemed good. The asteroid offered a new destination and also resolved the issue with a little gravity. NASA could go there without the need for expensive descent and ascent devices that could not afford because of the bloated expenses on the SLS and Orion (more than 3 billion dollars a year).

Unfortunately, after several years of searching, scientistscould not find a suitable asteroid that would come close enough to Earth, so that astronauts could quickly reach it, because the Orion spacecraft allows the team to spend only 21 days in deep space. NASA came to the conclusion that it has a limited budget and does not have enough tools to send people to the asteroid before 2025 - and indeed to any year.

So in the middle of this decade, smartthe agency’s engineers developed a plan that would be both realizable and technically consistent with the president’s goal of visiting the asteroid until 2025. The seemingly elegant mission was a bit of a trick. As part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission, the agency must send a robotic vehicle from the Solar System so that it captures a pebble-sized stone on the surface of the asteroid and drags it into the vicinity of the Moon. And in 2025, astronauts would visit it with the help of Orion. It was obvious that the mission would be canceled, even before Obama left the White House.

And so, three years ago, when NASA had already spent almost $ 20 billion on the development of SLS and Orion, the agency again needed to do something with these devices.

Over time, the engineers from the Space Center. Johnson, with the support of other centers, developed the lunar "Gateway" (Gateway). Why not? NASA already knows how to design and build a space station - after all, the International Space Station is still working. The new outpost could be placed far enough away from the gravity of the moon, so that SLS and Orion could be used to build the Gateway, and when the gateway is completed, NASA guarantees annual SLS launches to transport crews there for 30-day and 60-day missions.

Gateway solved political and technical problemsNasa Therefore, when the mission to the asteroid died prematurely, Gateway was given a turn. This plan has provided a legion of NASA contractors with work, and Gateway elements can be produced so that only SLS can deliver them, not cheaper and lower-powered rockets.

Arguments for"

Soon it happened. NASA began to hold academic meetings with scientists who could contribute to the creation of a stable lunar orbit platform. They worked with flight controllers and people performance experts to understand how to test Gateway systems and better understand the effects that deep space has on health, and how to build more robust systems that will save astronauts life on long journeys. Mars. The agency also attracted international and commercial partners to help with the landing modules that could travel from Gateway directly to the Moon.

In early August, the resource Ars askedBriddenstein on changing attitudes towards Gateway. As a congressman, he retained skepticism towards Gateway. Lunar ice and asteroids with resources that he wanted to develop, whatever one may say, were not a few thousand kilometers from the moon. But Brydenstein said that when he understood everything that a moon outpost could do for space exploration, he changed his mind. “I never held the same opinion. The time I spent at NASA changed my mind. ”

Due to limited maneuverabilityOrion, formally measured as a delta-v, NASA plans to place the Gateway in the so-called almost straight halo orbit. This elliptical orbit places the Gateway within 1,500 kilometers of the lunar surface, but also leads to 70,000 kilometers. In contrast, a low lunar orbit is located 100 kilometers from the surface of the moon.

Bridenstein who strongly supportsprivate companies that want to work with NASA, reduce the cost of space flight and develop reusable systems, said that Gateway will provide the most important infrastructure near the moon for commercial partners.

“This is not the best option to achievethe surface of the moon, but at least it allows us to remain in this orbit for a very long period with minimal motor abilities, ”he says. "We want more people to gain access to the lunar surface and more people to have access to the lunar orbit than ever before."

By limiting the size of the Gateway, NASA tries not toto build a second International Space Station, huge in size, volume and cost. This object, which is located within walking distance in low Earth orbit, cost NASA and its international partners $ 100 billion and more than a decade of construction in space.

NASA also plans to source gatewayserved as a template for a second similar structure that could serve as a transport in deep space and, ultimately, deliver people to Mars. The first Gateway, it appears, will serve as a test bench for the technologies necessary to reach Mars. Today, for example, some components of life support systems operate for about six months to failure. NASA would like to bring this technology to a 30-month uptime cycle for transport in deep space.

Finally, Brydenstein argued that the Gateway, and not a series of missions to the lunar surface, would forever denote the influence of NASA beyond the circumterrestrial orbit.

"The last thing we want to visit is the surface of the moon,prove that we can do it and finish it, ”he said. “We want to stay there. And I was convinced that Gateway would 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 we will go to Mars. ”

Stuck with the moon

Bob Zubrin wants nothing but how to get thereto mars. He offered all sorts of space architecture options that would allow NASA to send people directly to Mars with the help of commercial companies. But Zubrin bowed to the desire of the White House, Congress, and now NASA will focus its efforts on first visiting the moon.

"NASA's human flight program needs a goaland that goal must be Mars, ”he says. "But if they are not yet ready for such a competition, I can only sympathize." Perhaps, he laments, NASA needs to regain the confidence that he had in the 1960s, on the glorious days of the Apollo.

At the same time, Zubrin and other critics see Gatewayappendix, a dead-end branch of development, in which tens of billions of dollars of funding and decades of development will flow in, which could otherwise have been devoted to visiting another world. Although NASA can really provide itself with a firm stand in deep space, who will need this place if it does not bring NASA closer to a long stay on the Moon or Mars?

“It imposes responsibility on the program, wejust get stuck in it, ”he says. “It will all cost many billions a year. We see NASA waiting for the International Space Station to end its existence due to budget requirements. And they are proposing to build another one like that? ”

Zubrin proposed an alternative to the White House,which was called Moon Direct ("Lunar direction"). In it, he stressed the maximum access to the surface of the moon, the minimum of development and recurring costs, the minimum schedule and minimum risk. No, he did not give all the answers (although he thinks he did), but the essence of the proposal is that there are many good ways to return to the moon, if we apply the existing technologies for the most part.

Gateway's approach, he says, does not simplify NASA's pathto the moon. According to Zubrin, he satisfies the desires of the Congress and the agency to support the current breadwinners (contractors) and finds application for the SLS rocket and the Orion apparatus.

"Gateway's real problem in lunar orbitis not that the project is useless and that it will cost a lot of money, and not even that it will suck a lot of money over the decades, take it away from projects that are really worth doing, ”he says. “The real problem is the way of thinking that is embodied in it. Instead of spending money on business, we are looking for business on which we will spend money. ”

Cab levies

There is also the view that Gateway actually makes it difficult to return to the Moon or to Mars.

Delta-v determines what can be done inspace flight and what not. In order to achieve a low near-Earth orbit, the first stage of the rocket burns fuel and spends most of the energy on it. Then the second smaller, and sometimes even the smallest, third rocket stage pushes the load beyond the limits of a low near-earth orbit to its destination in deep space.

Since the upper stages are smaller and less powerful, and the engines on spacecraft are even weaker and weaker, it is extremely important to minimize the number of maneuvers needed to achieve the goal.

To get from low Earth orbit tothe surface of the moon, the required delta-v will be 6.1 km / s (it takes 4.1 k / s to get from low earth to low lunar orbit and another 2.0 to get to the surface from there). Conversely, to get from the LEO to the presumable Gateway halo-orbit — and then to the lunar surface — you need a delta-v of 6.85 km / s.

In other words, the spacecraft can leaveNOU, reach the surface of the moon and return to Earth with a total delta-v value of 9.1 km / s. To accomplish a similar mission with Gateway, a delta-v of 10.65 km / s (17% higher) is required. For this reason, Zubrin calls the lunar Gateway a “cabin of extortion” (for example, when paying for parking or driving on a toll road). It significantly increases the expenditure of energy required to reach the moon (or Mars, if the path to it will lie through this gateway).

In this case, NASA will not just pay forPassport to Gateway, figuratively speaking, the agency also pays for the checkpoint itself. Instead of spending the next decade on direct flights to the moon, NASA will first build a station near the moon to make it difficult for you to descend to the moon (if you look from the point of view of energy costs).

In aerospace society there are severaloutstanding people who perform in public with similar concerns on the Gateway theme. At the National Space Council meeting this summer, with the participation of US Vice President Mike Pence, former astronaut Terry Wirths also mentioned these doubts. He also expressed the hope that if the Gateway was indeed built, it would be more useful.

At the moment, the main goal of Gateway is to trick SLS and Orion into a mission, not to develop the technologies NASA needs to master the Moon and Mars.

Virts also believes that Gateway may beuseful if it is in orbit between the Earth and the Moon, as well as future space transport will transport people from Earth to Mars and back. This approach will test important concepts, such as high-speed meetings and transport operations that NASA needs in deep space.

Behind the scenes some members of Congress are worriedthat Gateway will postpone the mission of humans to Mars indefinitely. In addition, some senior space advisors in the Trump administration also have doubts about Gateway. It is unclear whether Trump himself was fully aware that NASA would not come close to the surface of the Moon during his presidency. And since Gateway supports too many people, at the moment only the president’s operational intervention can stop development.

Pressure builds up

NASA insists on the Gateway concept with a sense ofurgency. This week, agency leaders confirmed that they plan to launch the first element of the outpost in 2022, which will provide energy and cravings. The next launch will bring two components: a packaged ESPRIT, an international partner module with a scientific gateway, fuel storage and refueller, additional communication capabilities and external means for accommodating valuable cargo; along with the recycling module, which will include a small docking port, external robotic interfaces and consumables.

These components combined with the capabilitiesthe life support of the Orion will be able to support the crew for 15 days on Gateway. And these components can be sent in 2023, although NASA seems unlikely to prepare a rocket by this time.

Such a flight would require a more powerful version of the rocket.SLS, equipped with a perfect new top stage, which will allow Orion to reach the halo of the orbit and the new Gateway components. It seems unlikely that such an SLS option will be ready by 2024 or even 2025.

"We are very aggressively moving forward in the development anddeployment of Gateway, ”said the NASA Advisory Board meeting late August. “That is, we have very rapid development on schedule. I do not think we should change this. I think we need to set aggressive goals and drive processes to them. ”

These kinds of statements suggest that althoughNASA is trying to keep within the designated time frame; if something goes wrong, they are unlikely to be respected. And in programs of this size, anything can go wrong. It seems unlikely that the Gateway in its current configuration, with a large residential module and a separate gateway, will be completed before 2030.

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