US space agency NASA comes up with a new plan every other day. Now, it has announced it plans to build a spaceport near the Moon. Purpose is clear – the spaceport will serve as a gateway to the surface of the Moon and to several deep space destinations including Mars.
NASA said that the space near the Moon provides a deep space environment which is good enough to gain experience for human missions that push farther into the solar system, access the surface of the Moon for robotic missions but with the ability to return to Earth if needed in days rather than weeks or months.
According to NASA, the period of exploration near the Moon will kick off with the first integrated mission of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft.
NASA is planning to establish a deep space gateway in the orbit of the Moon within the first few missions. The spaceport will be a gateway to deep space and lunar surface.
The spaceport will be home to a power bus, a small habitat to extend crew time, docking capability, an airlock and serviced by logistics modules to enable research.
The deep space gateway’s propulsion system will mainly use high power electric propulsion that would help in station keeping and for the ability to transfer among a family of orbits in the lunar vicinity.
The three primary elements of the gateway are – the power and propulsion bus and habitat module, and a small logistics module(s). These elements would take advantage of the cargo capacity of SLS and crewed deep space capability of Orion.
An airlock can further augment the capabilities of the gateway and can fly on a subsequent exploration mission.
“The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the Moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA.
The second phase of missions will confirm that the agency’s capabilities built for humans can perform long duration missions beyond the Moon.
For those destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars, NASA envisions a deep space transport spacecraft.
A reusable vehicle, this spacecraft will use electric and chemical propulsion and would be specifically designed for crewed missions to destinations such as Mars.
The transport would take crew out to their destination, return them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again.
(With inputs from PTI)