NASA selects SpaceX to supply agency's planned lunar space station

NASA selects SpaceX to supply agency's planned lunar space station

The small space station will serve as a jumping-off point for sorties, both crewed and uncrewed, to the lunar surface. But SpaceX is continuing work on the Crew Dragon capsule in advance of its first crewed trip to space station.

The unmanned Dragon XL does not have provisions for returning cargo to Earth, but it is larger than the current spacecraft - and because it will be protected by a payload shroud at launch, it can carry experiments and other materials on its hull. All in all, it should be able to carry enough supplies and equipment for astronauts to stay aboard the Gateway for up to 60 days at a distance.

SpaceX will get a portion of a US$7 billion Nasa contract to use its biggest rocket, Falcon Heavy, to send a new "Dragon XL" spacecraft to the Lunar Gateway, an outpost Nasa plans to build that will orbit the moon sometime within the next decade.

Although SpaceX is the first company to receive a GLS contract award, more companies are bidding to provide what will be a fleet of resupply vehicles to the Gateway, an important requirement to allow for dissimilar redundancy - an important lesson learned during the challenge of keeping the ISS supplied.

The launch will see a couple of NASA astronauts fly aboard SpaceX hardware for the first time.

"Returning to the Moon and supporting future space exploration requires affordable delivery of significant amounts of cargo". "SpaceX has provided essential scientific research and supplies to the (space station) since 2012, and we are honored to continue the work beyond Earth's orbit".

The Artemis program aims to bring astronauts back to the lunar surface by the end of 2024, a target date set by the Trump administration.

The first Artemis lunar landings are aimed at the lunar southern polar region, where ice can be found in permanently shaded craters. NASA included a closing paragraph in its update that noted it's "looking at the parachute testing plan now and all the data we already have to determine next steps", but it does conclude that it's doing so in the interest of "flying the upcoming Demo-2 flight test in the mid-to-late May timeframe".

NASA imagines Orion crews docking at the Gateway station in a high orbit and descending to the surface from there with commercial landers and climbs that will be robotically mounted. The bridge could change its orbit, putting nearly any lunar landing site close at hand.

Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA's Artemis program will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth and our origins in the solar system.

Like the ISS, the Gateway will be an global effort with numerous agencies.

NASA is expected to announce lunar land contracts soon. To that end, the agency is relying on the commercial industry to help out. Each company selected will be guaranteed at least two missions. "The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture, and this deep-space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars".



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