NASA recently finalised the contract for the initial crew module of the agency’s Gateway lunar orbiting outpost. The contract, which is worth $187 million has been awarded to Orbital Science Corporation of Dulles, Virginia, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Space. NASA has described the Gateway as key to the new era of lunar explorations both in the orbit and on the surface of the Moon. One of the most unique features of the Gateway is that it can be moved to other orbits around the Moon to conduct more research. The Gateway is being built by both international and commercial partners and will support exploration on and near the Moon and later to Mars as well.
 
 
What is the contract for?
  1. NASA has issued this contract to design the habitation and logistics (HALO) support for the Gateway, which is a part of NASA’s Artemis program that aims to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024
  2. The HALO refers to the pressurised living quarters where astronauts will spend their time while visiting the Gateway. 
  3. As per a NASA press release, these quarters will be about the size of a small apartment and will provide augmented life support in tandem with NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
What is the Gateway Lunar Orbit outpost?
  1. Essentially, the Gateway is a small spaceship that will orbit the Moon, meant for astronaut missions to the Moon and later, for expeditions to Mars. 
  2. It will act as a temporary office and living quarters for astronauts, distanced at about 250,000 miles from Earth
  3. The spaceship will have living quarters, laboratories for science and research and docking ports for visiting spacecraft.
  4. Further, astronauts will use the Gateway at least once per year and not stay around the year like they do on the International Space Station (ISS)
  5. Compared to the ISS, the Gateway is much smaller (the size of a studio apartment), while the ISS is about the size of a six-bedroom house
  6. Once docked to the Gateway, astronauts will be able to stay there for three months at a time, conduct science experiments and take trips to the surface of the Moon.
  7. The Gateway will act as an airport, where spacecraft bound for the lunar surface of Mars can refuel or replace parts and resupply things like food and oxygen, allowing astronauts to take multiple trips to the Lunar surface and exploration of new locations across the Moon.
  8. Significantly, ‘The agency wants to use the Gateway as a science platform to look back at the Earth, observe the Sun, and get unobstructed views of the vast universe. 
  9. By studying the geology of the Earth, the Moon, and Mars – the three planetary bodies we know the most about – and the ways in which they are similar and different from each other, we can learn important things about how planets and planetary systems form.
How long will it take to build the Gateway?
  1. As of now, NASA has targetted the completion of the Gateway for 2026, while work on the spaceship is already underway. 
  2. By 2022, NASA plans to ready the power and propulsion for the spaceship, which will be launched on a partner-provided commercial rocket.