The American aerospace organization is working to develop a small space station, known as Gateway, which will be sent in a rather peculiar orbit around the Moon. Because it has no clear and pressing purpose, NASA and the Gateway’s advocates have claimed that it could be used as a testbed for interplanetary missions, enabling the space agency to find a way to keep astronauts alive and healthy in deep space.
What is Gateway Supposed to be Anyway?
Later on, it was suggested as a kind of orbital tug and home base for manned Moon landers, even though Gateway seems to have recently been eliminated from any plans for mid-2020’s Moon missions.
Still, the station is probably being developed to offer NASA’s insanely over-budget and way behind-schedule Orion probe and SLS rocket some type of landing site worthy of their dumbfounding $2 to 3 billion launch cost and $35 to 40 billion development cost.
Nevertheless, the space station on future orbit around the Moon that lacks a clear and present scientific exploratory reason for existence was initially planned to launch as separate modules that would wander through space and then arrive in orbit, before NASA decided to change the approach.
NASA has contracted three companies to help with the development of Gateway: Maxar and Northrop Grumman to build the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), respectively, and SpaceX to create a new Dragon XL spacecraft that will take off on Falcon Heavy and independently resupply the space station at least twice.
SpaceX is a Front Runner Among Competitors
Initially, NASA planned to launch the PPE and HALO modules separately in 2022 and 2023, respectively. However, as per the space agency associate administrator Doug Loverro, the officials have made the decision to launch both parts of the station at once on the same commercial rocket.
The decision was made mainly because it makes sense from a technical simplicity and efficiency point of view, but also because numerous commercial launch rockets are scheduled to have incredibly high payload fairings.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy has the required performance to carry both modules to Moon orbit, as NASA employed the rocket and a newly expanded fairing developed by Elon Musk‘s company for military customers as a foundation to establish whether PPE and HALO could launch simultaneously.
Considering that NASA could have technically contracted any of the companies developing vehicles that are expected to have massive payload fairings, the explicit use and mention of Falcon Heavy implies that the SpaceX rocket is a leading candidate for the new launch contract.
However, this shouldn’t be surprising, bearing in mind that the rocket has already successfully completed three launches and will attempt at least four future missions starting with this year to 2023. Including Gateway’s PPE and HALO, Falcon Heavy now has nine launches on contract over the next five years.