In pursuit of NASA’s Lunar Gateway project, they have chosen the Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX to launch the first two components of their foretold lunar outpost. Rather than sticking to the original plan, where these parts would be sent separately, NASA has decided to combine their launches within one rocket, with a forecasted launch date no sooner than May 2024. This change of plans was presented and declared last year. The launch will take place at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The two elements of the space station in the discussion are the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). The PPE is the motor and system that’ll act as the control center of the entire station, keeping it functional and operating. This part of the outpost is being constructed by Maxar while the HALO is being built by Northrop Grumman. The HALO is the pressurized living quarters that will be occupied by visiting astronauts to the station.
Currently, the Falcon Heavy from Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket company has been selected to perform the task of shipping the PPE and HALO into lunar orbit. It’s currently SpaceX’s strongest operational rocket. This model rocket has been seen in action thrice, the first being 2018 when Elon Musk launched a Tesla to Mars. The Falcon Heavy has also been selected for two other upcoming projects. One within this year for a pair of military satellites, and another scheduled for 2022 as a part of NASA’s Psyche asteroid mission. This mission has a cost of $117 million, nearly one-third of the Gateway’s forecasted budget.
The Lunar Gateway is a smaller part of NASA’s Artemis Mission, which strives to establish a permanent human presence on the surface of the moon. This Gateway will become the first long-term outpost positioned within the lunar orbit.
The recent decision of turning these two launch projects into one has created some controversy. The intention of this change was to reduce costs on the overall project, which has a settled budget of $332 million. However, recent forecasts now predict this development will counteract and increase costs as designs have to be reconfigured and the heavier load will elongate the rocket’s flight time.
The two companies working on the construction of the PPE and HALO have also had some contract clashes which resulted in the termination of other collaborations. Maxar originally intended to launch the PPE with additional satellites, though the current situation has resulted in the discontinuation of this initiative with SpaceX, paying the company $27.5 million in compensation, $6 million provided by NASA.
Northrop initially planned to launch additional cargo with their HALO habitat which consisted of necessities and supplies. With the joint launch now involving one rocket, there isn’t adequate space and they’ll have to cut the cargo plans. There is a prediction of a second required rocket launch to deliver these supplies, though nothing has been confirmed as of yet.
Reported By Ali