New artwork released for SpaceX’s Dragon XL spacecraft
NASA recently released new concept art for SpaceX’s Dragon XL cargo ship, which is being designed to service the space agency’s Lunar Gateway.
The Lunar Gateway is expected to be a small outpost in a highly-elliptical orbit around the Moon. It’s a key component of NASA’s Artemis Moon program, which looks to return humans to the Moon for the first time since 1972.
In order to service the Gateway, NASA awarded SpaceX a Gateway Logistics Services contract in March 2020, which tasks the company to send at least two Dragon XL spacecraft with both pressurized and unpressurized cargo.
It is expected to launch atop a Falcon Heavy rocket and will stay at the Lunar Gateway for six to 12 months.
Dragon XL is visually different from the company’s Dragon 1 and Dragon 2 spacecraft in part because it is expected to be disposable and doesn’t require a heat shield.
SpaceX also recently received a contract to launch the first two components of the Lunar Gateway — the Power and Propulsion Element, and Habitation and Logistics Outpost — on a single Falcon Heavy launch as early as May 2024.
Once the Gateway is in its final near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon, astronauts will be able to visit it in their Orion spacecraft and use it as a waypoint on their journey to the surface of the Moon.
NASA’s Human Landing System is also expected to be assembled at this location. Once astronauts arrive at the Gateway, they’ll transfer to the lander to continue on their way to the Moon’s surface.
As of right now, the first mission to send people to the Lunar Gateway, which’ll likely have a Dragon XL docked to it, is expected to be the Artemis 4 mission, probably no earlier than 2025.
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.