An illustration of NASA's proposed Deep Space Gateway in orbit around the moon. Credit: NASA

ADELAIDE, Australia — NASA and its Russian counterpart signed a joint statement Sept. 27 supporting research that could lead to a cislunar habitat, but the two are far from a final agreement to cooperate on developing it.

NASA announced it signed the joint statement with the Russian state space corporation Roscosmos during 68th International Astronautical Congress here regarding research for deep space exploration that “reflects the common vision for human exploration” of the two agencies.

That research, according to the statement, could eventually support joint development of the Deep Space Gateway, a human-tended facility in cislunar space that NASA has proposed as a technology and operational testbed for future human missions to Mars.

“Both agencies, as well as other International Space Station partners, see the gateway as a strategic component of human space exploration architecture that warrants additional study,” NASA said in its statement.

NASA noted it was engaged with industry in studies, such as the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program for habitat modules that could support development of the gateway. Russia and other potential international partners are preparing their own studies that could benefit the gateway.

The announcement, though, was widely reported as a final agreement by NASA and Roscosmos to jointly build the Deep Space Gateway. This may be due to language in a separate Roscosmos statement that said that the agencies “have already reached an understanding on the standards of the docking station of the future station,” according to an English translation of the Russian-language statement.

The Russian statement added that “the future elements of the station will be created on the basis of Russian developments, as well as the standards of life support systems.”

However, NASA has yet to formally adopt the Deep Space Gateway as a program or seek funding for it. “While the deep space gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space as the next step for advancing human space exploration,” NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in the NASA statement.

Lightfoot, in an interview at the conference Sept. 28, confirmed that there is no final deal with Roscosmos to cooperate on the gateway. “What we really said in our discussion is, as we move out from ISS, we want to take advantage of that with all our partners, and whatever we do, we do it in a global way,” he said. “There’s no commitment of resources or commitment to a program. It’s all conceptual at this point.”

At a press conference here Sept. 25, Lightfoot said that he had only started discussions with the ISS partners in April during a meeting at the Space Symposium in Colorado Springs. He also stressed that the Deep Space Gateway remained a concept, with no timeframe for making a decision on whether and how to proceed with it.

“Studies of the gateway concept will provide technical information to inform future decisions about potential collaborations,” NASA said in its statement. “These domestic and international studies are being used to shape the capabilities and partnering options for implementing the deep space gateway.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...