NASA has selected SpaceX to deliver two fundamental elements of its future lunar station. This “bridge” will aim to support human missions in deep space.
A mini-station around the moon
Small reminder: NASA aims to send humans back to the Moon from 2024 as part of its Artemis program. In this sense, the American agency and its international partners are developing a mini-station in lunar orbit (the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway), which is due to enter service around 2028.
The main purpose of this station will be to serve as a hub between the Earth and the Moon. Astronauts will be able to stay there between two missions on the lunar surface. Ultimately, the structure could also serve as a “relay point” for future Martian missions. For now, this station is expected to be operational from 2028.
A priori, the station should be placed in an elliptical orbit leading it to less than 3,000 kilometers of the Moon on its closest approach. The astronauts will then take the opportunity to go to the Moon and return to the station. The structure will be placed at about 70,000 km of the surface at its most distant point, favoring the arrival of land shuttles which will thus be able to reach the footbridge by only five days.
NASA chooses SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy
That being said, we’ll have to assemble this station. And to do this, it is necessary to transport the various modules on site. With this in mind, the NASA just selected SpaceX to deliver two of the elements of this future station. Namely the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE, manufactured by the company Maxar), and the Housing and Logistics Outpost (HALO, developed by the company Northrop Grumman).
The contract amount is $ 332 million (around 273 million euros). The launch of these two modules will be done with a launcher Heavy falcon, which offers much greater lifting capacity than the famous Falcon 9, now commonly used by SpaceX.
As a reminder, the Falcon Heavy had taken care of its entry into the aerospace scene in February 2018 by propelling Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space. The car then acted as a payload (rather than placing a block of concrete or steel).
Since then, the launcher has only operated two commercial flights since its first launch, on April 11 and June 25, 2019. Its next release is normally scheduled for early this year as part of a classified mission for the United States government. United.
For now, the launch of these elements is scheduled for no earlier than May 2024, but we will not lie to each other, it is very unlikely that this schedule will be respected.