WASHINGTON — NASA’s plans to develop a crewed facility in lunar orbit to support exploration of the moon got boosts both in the White House’s budget request for the agency as well as from the partners in the International Space Station.
The fiscal year 2020 budget request, released March 11, seeks $821 million for continued work on the lunar Gateway, a project previously known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway and the Deep Space Gateway. Congress allocated $450 million for the program, which it called the Lunar Orbital Platform, in the final fiscal year 2019 appropriations bill signed into law Feb. 15.
The requested funding will go to support continued development of the Gateway’s first module, the Power and Propulsion Element, which will provide advanced electric propulsion to maneuver the Gateway in cislunar space as well as electrical power for the other elements. NASA is currently evaluating proposals from industry to develop the Gateway, and expects to make a selection by May.
One change in the Gateway plans, though, is linked to another proposal in the budget request to defer development of the Block 1B version of the Space Launch System. NASA had planned to use the additional performance of the SLS Block 1B to launch Gateway elements “co-manifested” with Orion spacecraft.
Instead, NASA says it will use commercially provided launch services to launch those modules separately from Orion missions that will fly on the SLS Block 1. The agency didn’t go into details on how that will change the assembly process, although NASA charts allude to the use of a tug that would fly with later elements of the Gateway.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine discussed the Gateway’s development in a March 11 speech about the budget request at the Kennedy Space Center. He emphasized its role in demonstrating high-power solar electric propulsion, which will be incorporated into the Power and Propulsion Element.
He also released a new illustration of the Gateway that highlighted potential international contributions to its development. It included NASA’s Power and Propulsion Element as well as a habitation module and utilization module that NASA will provide. The European Space Agency would provide a module called European System Providing Refueling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications, or ESPRIT, while the Canadian Space Agency provided the Gateway’s robotics system and Roscosmos a “Multi-Purpose Module” that appeared to be a docking node. Either ESA or the Japanese agency JAXA would provide another habitation module, while JAXA and/or NASA would be responsible for logistics resupply.
“This is an aspirational vision of the Gateway,” he said, but added it had the support of those agencies. “Just this morning, I got off the phone with all of our international partners on the ISS, and others, and they are very excited about partnering with us on going to the moon.”
NASA also released March 11 a statement from the ISS Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB), the interagency group that oversees the management of the station. That statement, dated March 5, expressed support among the ISS partners to also cooperate on aspects of the Gateway.
“Within a broader open architecture for human lunar exploration, the MCB acknowledged the Gateway as a critical next step,” the statement said. “Following several years of extensive study among the agencies culminating in a successful technical assessment, the MCB endorsed plans to continue the Gateway development.”
So far, only Canada has formally signed on to the Gateway. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Feb. 28 that Canada would spend $1.4 billion over 24 years on the Gateway, contributing a robotic arm system called Canadarm3.
Bridenstine said he was “very excited” about Canada’s decision as he awaited plans by other nations. “We know, based on other conversations, that we have other agencies all around the world excited about partnering with us on Gateway.”
Among them is ESA. “The lunar Gateway is the next big step in human exploration and we are working to make Europe a part of it,” said David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA, in a March 11 statement.
That statement confirmed ESA’s interest in providing the ESPRIT module, for which the agency released study contracts last fall, and studying a potential role on an international habitation module. The agency said a “possible commitment” on participating in the Gateway could come at its November ministerial meeting known as Space19+.
Bridenstine left the door open for other nations who are not part of the ISS partnership to participate in the Gateway or other aspects of NASA’s broader lunar exploration vision. “We don’t want to constrain ourselves to the traditional International Space Station partners,” he said. “There are more space agencies all around the world than ever before in human history.” He did not identify specific nations outside the ISS partnership that might contribute.