Before the space agency puts astronauts on our natural satellite for the first time since the Apollo missions touched down, it needs a lunar outpost to be its gateway to the future. The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway is the brainchild of NASA scientists joining forces with ISS and commercial partners to explore the concept of such an outpost floating around the moon. After months of brainstorming, the concept is going to become a reality as part of NASA’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2019, and will be set to take off sometime in the 2020s.
“The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said NASA’s associate administrator of Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, William Gerstenmaier. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”
What NASA is sure of at this point is that the orbital outpost will need a power source and propulsion elements (pretty obvious) and some sort of habitat (also obvious) for astronauts who will carry out missions from there—or possibly use it as a layover and launchpad to Mars and deep space—in the future. Power and propulsion don’t just mean blasting off at warp speed. Whatever keeps the outpost spaceborne will also enable HD communications from space to earth, space to the moon and vice versa, as well as to and from astronauts on spacewalks.
Maybe the coolest thing it can do is use lasers to zap huge amounts of data faster than any radio frequency system. Bye, radio.
Even before NASA officially becomes Mars-bound, the brains behind its NextSTEP program and the ISS will make sure the outpost can be a viable habitat where researchers can actually do science. An airlock will make spacewalks and lunar exploration (including the next human mission to the moon which we’ve been waiting forever for) possible. It will also allow the docking of new elements that are sent over. Enhanced capabilities for both lunar and deep space exploration will offer opportunities for commercial and international partnerships that could possibly get us further into space, sooner.
While tech and logistics for the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway continue to get figured out, NASA will launch parts of the outpost via its Space Launch System (SLS) and possibly commercial rockets like the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, whose mind-blowing launch recently went viral. Getting back to the moon means the next giant leap for mankind is going to be tremendous.