NASA chooses Falcon Heavy for first segments of lunar gateway
In a contract award as part of NASA’s Artemis program, NASA announced on Tuesday, February 9, that they have awarded the launch contract for initial elements of the Gateway Lunar Outpost to SpaceX and their Falcon Heavy rocket. With a total cost of $331.8 million for the launch and other mission related costs, the Hawthorne, California, based company will utilize its Falcon Heavy rocket to place both the Power & Propulsion Element (PPE), as well as the Habitation & Logistics Outpost (HALO) into lunar orbit. The launch will take place no earlier than May 2024, and will launch from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A.
Launching as one superstructure, the PPE and HALO will be integrated on Earth prior to launch. The two components will be the first of the Gateway to be placed into orbit, awaiting additional elements to be launched at later dates, in preparations for a sustainable lunar presence.
The station’s HALO module, designed and built by Northrop Grumman and derived from their Cygnus spacecraft, will serve as the U.S. pressurized living quarters for the outpost, and will be where the astronauts conduct their work. HALO will serve as a docking point for the Orion capsule, and will offer support for command and control of lunar operations, as well as support of science experiments beyond Low Earth Orbit. HALO also serves to supplement life support systems on board Orion, as well as the Human Landing System, and other visiting vehicles, which will also dock with the module.
The station’s PPE module, built by satellite manufacturer Maxar Technologies, is a 60-kilowatt class solar electric propulsion spacecraft, that will offer the bulk of the power to the outpost. Among its capabilities include high speed communications, attitude control, and the capability to relocate to different lunar orbits, thus allowing gateway to provide unprecedented access to the lunar surface.
Sized about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, the Gateway is designed to operate as a rendezvous point for Artemis astronauts in a near-rectilinear orbit of the moon tens of thousands of miles away from the surface. Unlike the ISS, the Gateway is designed to only be occupied part time, for a maximum of 90 days at a time.
Gateway also includes partnerships with the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) providing the International habitation module, as well as the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), who is contributing a newly designed Canadarm robotic arm. Contracts have also been awarded for logistical re-supply of the station, using a modified SpaceX Dragon XL capsule.
Matt Haskell is a published aviation and spaceflight photographer and writer based in Merritt Island Florida. Born and raised outside Edwards Air Force Base and NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center, he moved to Florida’s Space Coast and began photographing and reporting spaceflight professionally full time in 2018.