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Op-ed: The Deep Space Gateway would shackle human exploration, not enable it
TERRY VIRTS - 9/28/2017

Former ISS Commander Terry Virts argues NASA does not need another space station.


What the Deep Space Gateway might look like based on NASA concept drawings


Editor’s note: NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway has been in the news recently due to a joint statement of support for the project from US and Russian officials. However, as former space shuttle pilot and International Space Station commander Terry Virts writes in an op-ed below, there is little agreement in US space policy circles about the need for the gateway.

Consider the following proposal for a human spaceflight program. First, a multinational consortium comes together to build a space station, with each nation responsible for specific pieces of the station or capabilities, such as module or robotic arm. Second, the station relies on existing rockets and vehicles to launch cargo and crew, effectively providing these programs a raison d’etre for many years to come. Third, the consortium develops an “assembly sequence” of missions to put the station’s modules together in orbit, one by one. Then, once the space station is built, astronauts use it to perform experiments and prepare for eventual missions deeper into the Solar System.

Does this program sound familiar? You may think this is the International Space Station—but it is not. Rather, this is NASA’s recent proposal for something called “Deep Space Gateway.” But there are several key differences between this new program and the ISS. Most notably, the gateway would be built in orbit around the Moon. Also, it will not use the Space Shuttle for assembly but instead rely on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, vehicles that should be operational by the mid-2020s.

The people at NASA who have developed the gateway concept are some of the brightest people that I know, and they have tried as best they can to shepherd our human spaceflight program through the past decade, even as it lacked a concrete goal or mission. Nevertheless, America deserves a thoughtful and critical examination of this plan. For if we choose to pursue it, America and its international partners will be committing to this pathway for the next few decades of human spaceflight.

What’s the goal?

So let’s consider some key questions about the Deep Space Gateway plan. Any project should have a clear goal. It really doesn’t matter if you are building a fast food restaurant chain, negotiating peace in the Middle East, or designing a human spaceflight program—having a focused goal is essential.

In the case of this gateway, there is no concrete human spaceflight goal. Instead, there is simply a fuzzy promise of having an “ecosystem” of capability in orbit around the Moon that will eventually enable humans to go to Mars. It is the “if you build it, they will come” strategy, which may have worked well enough for Kevin Costner but is highly suspect when it comes to space.

In the 1960s, NASA made it to the Moon by flying increasingly complex missions, each designed to build on the previous one, developing and demonstrating the technologies eventually needed for a Moon landing. It was Mercury, then Gemini, and finally Apollo that got us to the Moon, not just Apollo.

The International Space Station has served as a type of project “Mercury" for extended human missions by proving that long-duration spaceflight is possible. As the follow-on to ISS, the Deep Space Gateway program would fill the role of “Gemini,” a stepping-stone to develop and prove technologies necessary for our next destinations—be it the Moon, Mars, or beyond.

It’s critical to ask whether building another space station, one that costs 10 times as much as the ISS to service and supply and comes with a significant decrease in crew mission duration, would really be a stepping stone. This is not a trivial question, as space stations are something we can do much more cheaply and safely in low Earth orbit. To justify the cost, there must be some technology required for deep space missions that we will gain from a space station in lunar orbit.

To answer this question, we must have a well-defined, long-term goal. Moon colonies? Boots on Mars? Something else? If we don’t have the goal, we are putting the proverbial chicken before the egg by developing “Gemini” before we know what “Apollo” will look like. Regardless of a future destination, as someone who lived on the ISS for 200 days, I cannot envision a new technology that would be developed or validated by building another modular space station. Without a specific goal, we’re unlikely to ever identify one.

Separate crew and cargo

Beyond questions of strategy, there is an elephant in the room that has been ignored for almost a decade. NASA’s plans call for launching astronauts in the Orion capsule on top of the massive SLS heavy lift rocket. After the STS-107 Columbia accident in 2003, NASA underwent some serious soul-searching. Investigators wrote the Columbia Accident Investigation Board report, which revealed some serious cultural flaws at the agency. An axiom that came out of that difficult time was the need to “separate crew from cargo.” The Space Shuttle had launched crew and cargo together and had two accidents out of 135 missions. We decided that future astronauts should launch in smaller and safer capsules, while cargo should be launched on more massive (and perhaps less safe) rockets.

For myriad reasons, NASA is choosing to abandon this safety dictum and launch its astronauts on the heaviest rocket ever, SLS, which will simultaneously be carrying payloads. I will use the adjective “unwise” to describe this new plan. It is dangerous and violates the basic post-Columbia accident principle. It is also expensive, as each SLS launch will cost on the order of $2 billion. And finally, the massive Orion capsule eats up about 25 tons of capacity that could otherwise be occupied with payloads such as habitation modules or landers.

The plan to launch Orion on SLS forces NASA to human-rate the largest rocket ever built, carrying with it expenses that are not required on rockets that only launch cargo. It would seem to make more sense to multiply the cost of a smaller, cheaper rocket in order to human-rate it rather than the largest and most expensive rocket ever built. For example, NASA is already going through the exercise of human-rating both the Atlas V and Falcon 9 rockets for commercial crew launches. Both of these rockets will have dozens of cargo launches behind them before their first crew missions. By contrast, NASA plans to fly crew on just the second flight of the SLS rocket.

With a new president and National Space Council, what the United States needs now is strong bipartisan support to lead a robust international partnership in a bold and significant new program of human space exploration. The Deep Space Gateway architecture, while developed by some of the smartest and most dedicated engineers at NASA, will not accomplish this goal. Instead, it will ultimately be judged as a jobs program aimed at providing work for existing programs. The gateway may be a good “answer” but not to a question that needs to be answered.

A great nation like America deserves a great space program, and the international community is waiting for exactly that kind of strong and visionary leadership. If America does not provide this leadership, other nations will.

Source: Op-ed: The Deep Space Gateway would shackle human exploration, not enable it
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Is the Gateway the right way to the moon?
by Jeff Foust — December 25, 2018 [SpaceNews]
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 17, 2018 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


A year after President Donald Trump formally directed NASA to return humans to the moon in Space Policy Directive (SPD) 1, the agency has developed the outlines of a plan to carry that out, while emphasizing the language in the policy to do so in a “sustainable” manner and with international and commercial partners. Credit: NASA illustration

Sometime in 2028, competing for attention alongside a presidential election and the return of the Summer Olympics to Los Angeles, NASA will return humans to the surface of the moon.

A lunar lander will depart the cluster of modules in an elliptical orbit around the moon, called Gateway, and descend. One stage will take the lander to a low lunar orbit and then separate, after which the descent module will handle the rest of the journey to the lunar surface. A crew of up to four will spend days — perhaps up to two weeks — on the surface before boarding the ascent module, which will take them back to the Gateway.

At least that’s NASA’s plan for now. A year after President Donald Trump formally directed NASA to return humans to the moon in Space Policy Directive (SPD) 1, the agency has developed the outlines of a plan to carry that out, while emphasizing the language in the policy to do so in a “sustainable” manner and with international and commercial partners. But as the agency describes two of the biggest elements of the plan, the Gateway and a “human-class” lunar lander, it’s still struggling to sell the proposal to its various stakeholders, including its own advisers.

Three stages to the moon

As NASA started to implement SPD-1, it made use of something it had already proposed: a cislunar habitat called the Deep Space Gateway. Under the agency’s previous “Journey to Mars” plans, the Deep Space Gateway was intended to test out technologies needed for future human deep space missions, including expeditions for Mars proposed for the 2030s. After SPD-1 went into effect, the Deep Space Gateway was renamed the rather unwieldy Lunar Orbiting Platform-Gateway, with a focus on supporting robotic and human exploration of the moon. (Today, NASA simply refers to the facility as the Gateway.)

But while the Gateway could be repurposed to support human exploration of the moon, NASA lacked a means of getting to the surface. Internally, the agency started to study concepts for lunar lander designs, and put into motion efforts to solicit proposals from industry to study how to get astronauts from the Gateway to the surface.

There’s been no shortage of ideas. For example, Lockheed Martin unveiled in October its concept for a large lunar lander, based on designs it had developed earlier for Mars. Its lunar lander was a single-stage vehicle, capable of getting from the Gateway to the moon and back without discarding stages. The company envisioned a propellant depot in the same orbit as the Gateway — eventually using water obtained from lunar ice deposits converted into liquid hydrogen and oxygen — to refuel the lander.

The Lockheed concept was big: 62 metric tons when fully fueled, and 22 tons when empty. The vehicle would be 14 meters tall, requiring astronauts in the habitat module at the top of the lander to use what the company called a “simple platform elevator” to get down to the surface.

NASA, though, is moving in a different direction. Even in a best-case scenario, a single-stage lunar lander would weigh about 50 metric tons fully fueled, noted Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division, in a presentation Dec. 7 to the human exploration and operations committee of the NASA Advisory Council (NAC).

“If you did a single-stage lander, there isn’t a launch vehicle that it can fit on,” he said. Even the future Block 1B version of Space Launch System, he said, can place only about 45 metric tons onto a trajectory to the moon.


NASA officials used the infographic above to explain the Gateway proposal to the NASA Advisory Council’s human exploration and operations committee during the group’s Dec. 6-7 meeting at NASA Headquarters in Washington. Credit: NASA infographic

A two-stage approach, consisting of a descent module and ascent module, would still require the descent module to weight between 32 and 38 metric tons. That could fit on a SLS, Crusan noted, but no other vehicles that exist now or which NASA expects to be available in the near future. However, the ascent module, weighing in at 9 to 12 tons, could fit on a number of commercially available vehicles.

What NASA now considers the best option for a lunar lander is a three-stage approach, which adds a transfer vehicle in addition to the ascent and descent modules. “By going to this three-stage architecture, it opens up a lot more of that trade space,” Crusan said. That means more flexibility in how each stage, now small enough to fit on commercial vehicles or be co-manifested on SLS/Orion missions, gets to the moon.

However they get there, the three stages would be integrated at the Gateway, with the astronauts boarding the lander there. The transfer vehicle would take the lander from the Gateway’s near-rectilinear halo orbit, an elliptical orbit that goes between about 1,000 and 70,000 kilometers above the moon, to a circular low orbit perhaps 100 kilometers high. The ascent and descent stages would then go down to the lunar surface, and at the end of the mission the ascent stage would fire its engines to go back directly the Gateway.

That approach would allow both the ascent stage and the transfer vehicle to be reusable, another selling point for the overall architecture. The descent stage would be left behind on the moon, so a new one would be needed for each mission. But Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, suggested that the ascent module’s engines could also be used for landing. “All you’re using for the descent vehicle is propellant tanks,” he said at a meeting of the full NASA Advisory Council Dec. 10.

Crusan said that an effort to solicit industry studies of lunar lander concepts, once planned for the summer but put on hold as the agency refined its thinking about lunar landers, could be restarted by the end of the year. “We want to get industry studies underway as soon as possible,” he said.

Gate-why

At that human exploration and operations committee meeting, some members wondered why the lunar lander, even the three-stage concept currently preferred by NASA, required use of the Gateway. Couldn’t the lander elements dock on their own and then rendezvous with an Orion spacecraft without the need of the Gateway, one person asked.

“Gateway’s providing a safe haven capability for us,” Gerstenmaier told the committee Dec. 6. “Gateway is also providing a rendezvous destination so there’s no time criticality associated with these three elements coming together. They can be launched months apart, years apart.”


NASA’s proposed “Path to the Lunar Surface” builds on previous missions such as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the ISS to set the stage for building the Gateway space station near the moon as a spaceport for robotic and human missions to the lunar surface before sending astronauts to Mars. Credit: NASA infographic

The committee, though, isn’t the only group raising questions about the Gateway or NASA’s overall lunar plans. At a meeting of the National Space Council’s Users’ Advisory Group (UAG) Nov. 15 at NASA Headquarters, Tom Cremins, associate administrator for strategy and plans, gave an overview of what NASA planned to accomplish by 2028 under its overall exploration architecture, a bulleted list that included landing humans on the moon.

That approach was too slow for some members of the advisory group. “Personally, I think 2028 for humans on the moon, that’s 10 years from now. It just seems like it’s so far off,” said Eileen Collins, a former astronaut. “We can do it sooner.”

“This comes across as having no sense of urgency,” said Harrison Schmitt, the Apollo 17 astronaut. “I think there should be a sense of urgency.”

Some members of the advisory group focused their criticism on the Gateway itself. “Why would you want to send a crew to an intermediate point in space, pick up a lander there and go down?” asked Buzz Aldrin, who called the Gateway concept “absurd.”

Later that day, Mike Griffin, the former NASA administrator, spoke to the UAG. While he was there in his current capacity as undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, committee members couldn’t resist asking him for his thoughts about NASA’s plans, knowing his reputation for speaking his mind.

Griffin lived up to that reputation. “I think 2028 is so late to need as not even being worthy of being on the table,” he said, emphasizing that he was offering his personal opinion. “The architecture that has been put in play, putting a Gateway before boots on the moon, is from a space systems engineer’s point — which was the only thing in life I was ever good at — a stupid architecture.”

The Gateway, he said, would be useful only when there are facilities on the moon producing propellant that could be transported to the Gateway, now serving as a depot. “We should be, with all deliberate speed, returning to the moon and learning how to utilize the resources of our nearest Earth-orbit object. In my opinion.”

Despite criticism at the meeting, from members and guests, members of the UAG said they weren’t necessarily opposed to the Gateway itself. “There were some hard questions asked” about the Gateway, said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and a member of the group, during a panel session at the SpaceCom Expo conference in Houston Nov. 28. “We’ve seen enough slideware. We want to see more hardware.”

But, asked later if the Gateway was the right plan for NASA to pursue, Stallmer and other UAG members on the panel punted. “That’s not for us to decide,” he said.

“My personal opinion is I don’t know,” said former astronaut Pam Melroy. “I don’t feel like I have enough information yet to know if it’s the right thing or not.”

Even proponents of the Gateway have struggled to come up with selling points for it. During the NAC human exploration and operations committee meeting, members who said they liked the Gateway struggled to come up with rationales for it that could be easily understood outside the agency.

Ken Bowersox, chairman of the committee, offered one explanation about how the Gateway helped NASA prepare for exploration beyond the moon, even if it wasn’t the most efficient way to get to the moon. “But just trying to do that, I went past 30 seconds,” he said after spending about a minute describing it. “I already lost half the people that I try to talk to.”

“Gateway is not a very short sound bite,” Crusan said. “The value of building critical infrastructure off the planet is not something you explain in two or three sentences.”


Jason Crusan, director of NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems Division, says a three stage approach is the best option for a lunar lander. “If you did a single-stage lander, there isn’t a launch vehicle that it can fit on,” he told a NASA advisory committee Dec. 7. Credit: NASA

When the full NASA Advisory Committee met at NASA Headquarters Dec. 10, agency leadership went on the offensive to build support for the Gateway, emphasizing sustainability over schedule.

“There has been some criticism of the Gateway,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine acknowledged. “What we’re doing here at NASA is following Space Policy Directive 1” and its emphasis on sustainability and partnerships, he argued. In that approach, the Gateway becomes a “reusable command module” directing activities on the lunar surface. “The glory of the Gateway is that it is that command module.”

Gerstenmaier showed a chart later in the meeting comparing the Gateway approach to the “Apollo-style” alternative for going directly to the moon. The latter approach, he argued, lacks reusability and doesn’t build infrastructure that can make such exploration more sustainable. It also limited opportunities for international and commercial partnerships.

“Depending on who you talk to, they believe that this can be done faster,” he said of a direct return to the moon that doesn’t develop a Gateway. The advantage of the Gateway, he said, was its sustainability and flexibility. “It’s seen as not optimal for any one particular location on the moon, but it gives you the entire lunar surface.”

“There are people who say we need to get there, and we need to get there tomorrow,” Bridenstine said of those pushing for an immediate, direct return to the moon. “I would argue that we got there in 1969. That race is over, and we won. The time now is to build a sustainable, reusable architecture.”

That approach, he said, would allow the U.S. to return to the moon with international and commercial partners. “The next time we go to the moon, we’re going to have American boots on the moon with the American flag on their shoulders, and they’re going to be standing side-by-side with our international partners who have never been to the moon before,” he said. “That’s American leadership.”

As that council meeting progressed, members suggested potential additional studies for the Gateway concept, perhaps in cooperation with the National Academies or the National Space Council’s UAG. “Would it make sense to perhaps convene a workshop — maybe it’s the National Academies or someone else — fairly soon where people put up or shut up in terms of coherent alternative plans?” asked Alan Epstein, representing the National Academies’ Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board.

Bowersox, though, noted that his committee, having been steeped in the technical background about its attributes, liked the idea of the Gateway. “I tried to encourage somebody to say no,” he said about their deliberations. “I didn’t get anybody.”

As Bowersox put it during his committee’s earlier meeting, “It takes time for it to grow on you.”

Source: Is the Gateway the right way to the moon?

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Canada becomes first nation to formally commit to NASA’s lunar Gateway
by David Pugliese — February 28, 2019 [SpaceNews]


Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada's participation in the NASA-led lunar Gateway program Feb. 28 during a speech at Canadian Space Agency headquarters in Quebec. Credit: Adam Scotti, Prime Minister’s Office.

VICTORIA, British Columbia — Canada has become the first nation to formally commit to NASA’s lunar Gateway project with a financial contribution to cover a 24-year period and the development of a new generation robotic Canadarm.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made the announcement Wednesday that Canada would be partnering with NASA and spending 2 billion Canadian dollars ($1.4 billion) over 24 years on the Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway program, a human-tended facility in orbit around the moon, as well as other space programs. The announcement included funding of 150 million Canadian dollars over five years for a new Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to help small and medium-sized businesses develop new technologies to be used and tested in lunar orbit and on the moon’s surface in fields that include artificial intelligence, robotics and health.

Canada will develop and contribute a smart robotic system – Canadarm3 – that will repair and maintain the Gateway, Trudeau announced. “Canada’s historic investment will create good jobs for Canadians, keep our astronaut program running and our aerospace industry strong and growing, while opening up a new realm of possibilities for Canadian research and innovation,” he said. “With the Lunar Gateway, Canada will play a major role in one of the most ambitious projects ever undertaken.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine thanked Trudeau in a statement that highlighted Canada’s past support for the U.S. space program. “We look forward to our deepening partnership with Canada, and the support of the many other nations I am confident will join us and help strengthen our progress on the challenging goals we’ve set in space,” he added.



An artist’s concept of Canada’s smart robotic system located on the exterior of the Gateway, a small space station in orbit around the moon. (Credits: Canadian Space Agency, NASA)

Canadian aerospace firms have been lobbying the federal government for years for a fresh influx of funding for space programs. In the fall of 2018 a coalition of space-related organizations, led by MDA which developed the Canadarm, launched a public relations and government lobbying campaign to highlight the need for more space funding and participation in the Lunar Gateway project.

MDA, a Maxar Technologies company, has already conducted early concept studies for the Canadian Space Agency on the Lunar Gateway robotics system. It has also conducted a survey of Canadian firms that could be used to deliver the capability and last year held its own industry day to meet with key suppliers.

MDA says the Canadarm3 robotics on the Lunar Gateway will be essential for critical operations and maintenance for the new international space station, on both the outside and inside of the station. It is expected to consist of a larger manipulator arm and a smaller dexterous arm, the firm noted.

Mike Greenley, group president of MDA, said over 500 Canadian firms participated in the company’s robotics program for the International Space Station. “We expect a similarly robust and diverse pan-Canadian supply chain will form to execute Canada’s commitment to the Lunar Gateway, including Canada’s strong AI community,” he added in a statement Wednesday.

Greenley, in a previous interview with Space News, noted that a new generation of Canadarm would also provide a highly visible and critical component to Lunar Gateway operations, including the assembly of the Gateway itself and its ongoing maintenance, the capture of visiting spacecraft.

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency have been in discussions to examine a Canadian contribution to the Lunar Gateway. Bridenstine met with Canadian Space Agency President Sylvain Laporte in September at NASA headquarters for talks on the project and other potential programs.

Bridenstine noted at a Sept. 7 forum at the Wilson Center in Washington that, “We need to take advantage of some of the great capabilities that Canada has developed.”

He suggested that capabilities, such as a version of the Canadarm2 robotic arm on the International Space Station, could for the Gateway, be used to help maintain it when astronauts are not on board. “Hopefully, maybe one day we can have an agreement where we can have a Canadarm on Gateway,” Bridenstine said at the time. “Not only on the outside but on the inside, and have it more robust than ever before so that it can, in fact, help manage the space station when it is uncrewed.”


Source: https://spacenews.com/canada-becomes-first-nation-to-formally-commit-to-nasas-lunar-gateway/

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Op-ed | Lunar Gateway or Moon Direct?
by Robert Zubrin — April 17, 2019
This op-ed originally appeared in the April 8, 2019 issue of SpaceNews magazine.


An updated illustration of the lunar Gateway, released by NASA March 11, shows the proposed international partner contributions to the facility. On March 26, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence directed NASA to land humans on the moon by 2024, four years earlier than the agency's current plans. Credit: NASA

NASA intends to waste billions on a 'Lunar Orbit Tollbooth.' Private spacecraft could put boots on the moon faster and cheaper.

NASA has proposed to build a lunar orbiting space station, called the lunar Gateway, to use as a base for lunar exploration. This plan is severely defective.

The Gateway project may be compared to a deal in which you are offered a chance to rent an office in Thule, Greenland, on the following terms: 1. You pay to construct the building. 2. You accept a 30-year lease with high monthly rents and no exit clause. 3. You agree to spend one month per year there for the next 30 years. 4. You agree to fly through Thule whenever you travel anywhere from now on.

Few would find such a proposition attractive. The lunar Gateway project is no better. It will cost a fortune to build, a fortune to maintain, and it will add to the cost, risk, and timing constraints of all subsequent missions to the moon or Mars by adding an unnecessary stop along the way.

To understand just how suboptimal a plan the lunar Gateway is, we need to contrast it with what would be done as part of a well-conceived effort to get the job done as swiftly and as potently as possible. The plan to do lunar exploration this way is called Moon Direct.

Here’s how it would work: In the first phase, which occurs in advance of any human missions, we deliver habitat modules and other cargo one way to the planned base area on the lunar surface.

SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy can lift roughly 60 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO). Starting from that point, a hydrogen/ oxygen rocket-propelled cargo lander could deliver 10 tons of payload to the lunar surface.



Robert Zubrin’s latest book will be released May 14. Credit: Prometheus

We therefore proceed by sending two such landers to our planned base location. The best place for it would be at one of the poles, because there are spots at both moon’s poles where sunlight is accessible all the time, as well as permanently shadowed craters nearby where water ice has accumulated. Such ice could be electrolyzed to make hydrogen-oxygen rocket propellant, to fuel both Earth-return vehicles as well as flying rocket vehicles that would provide the base’s crew with exploratory access to most of the rest of the moon. We won’t just be getting a local outpost: we’ll be getting complete global access to an entire world.

The first cargo lander carries a load of equipment, including a solar panel array, high data rate communications gear, a microwave power beaming set up with a range of 100 kilometers, an electrolysis/ refrigeration unit, two crew vehicles, a trailer, and a group of teleoperated robotic rovers. After landing, some of the rovers are used to set up the solar array and communications system, while others are used to scout out the landing area in detail, putting down radio beacons on the precise target locations for the landings to follow.

The second cargo lander brings out a 10-ton habitation module, loaded with food, spare spacesuits, scientific equipment, tools and other supplies. This will serve as the astronauts’ house, laboratory and workshop on the moon. Once it has landed, the rovers hook it up to the power supply and all systems are checked out. This done, the rovers are redeployed to do detailed photography of the base area and its surroundings. All this data is sent back to Earth, to aid mission planners and the science and engineering support teams, and ultimately form the basis of a virtual reality experience that will allow millions of members of the public to participate vicariously in the missions.

The base now being operational it is time to send the first crew. A Falcon Heavy is used to deliver another cargo lander to orbit, whose payload consists of a fully fueled Lunar Excursion Vehicle (LEV). This craft consists of a 2-ton cabin like that used by the Apollo-era Lunar Excursion Module together with an 8-ton hydrogen/oxygen propulsion system, capable of delivering it from the lunar surface to Earth orbit. A human-rated SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket then lifts the crew in a Crew Dragon capsule to LEO where they transfer to the LEV. Then the cargo lander takes the LEV, with the crew aboard, to the moon, while the Crew Dragon remains behind in LEO.

After landing at the moon base, the crew completes any necessary set up operations and begins exploration. A key goal will be to travel to a permanently shadowed crater and, making use of power beamed to them from the base, use telerobots to mine water ice. Hauling this treasure back to the base in their trailer, the astronauts will feed the water into the electrolysis/refrigeration unit, which will transform it into liquid hydrogen and oxygen. These products will then be stored in the empty tanks of the cargo landers for future use — primarily as rocket propellant but also as a power supply for fuel cells and a copious source of life support consumables.

Having spent a couple of months initiating such operations and engaging in additional forms of resource prospecting and scientific exploration, the astronauts will enter the LEV, take off and return directly to Earth orbit. There they will be met by a Crew Dragon — either the one that took them to orbit in the first place or another that has just been launched to lift the crew following them — which will serve as their re-entry capsule for the final leg of the journey back home.



A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard is seen as it is rolled out of the horizontal integration facility at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A in preparation for the Demo-1 mission that launched March 2. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

After several such second-phase missions have been completed, a large stockpile of propellant will be in place at the base, and the water acquisition and propellant manufacture operations will have been reduced to practice so that they can be done in a fully automated fashion. We will also have several used LEVs, available, floating in Earth orbit. This being the case, the third phase missions can be done simply by using a medium-lift Falcon 9, (or Blue Origin New Glenn or United Launch Alliance Vulcan) to lift the crew to orbit in a capsule, after which they transfer to a LEV along with 7.5 tons of refueling propellant, and then take flight to the moon. Furthermore, once on the moon, the LEV can be refueled at the base propellant depot for sortie flights to distant locations, before it is ultimately refueled for the return flight home.

With more gear arriving on every mission, the base capabilities will rapidly increase, its supportable population will grow, and mission durations will expand from weeks to months, or even years. As this occurs, the base will transition from a local activity to a center supporting a vigorous globe-spanning program of lunar exploration.

Now let’s compare this plan with one involving the use of the lunar Gateway. The Gateway plan involves using SLS boosters, launchable once every two years, to deliver four modules to build the station in lunar orbit. This will take eight years, which, at an SLS program cost of $2.5 billion per year will stick U.S. taxpayers with a bill for $20 billion, not counting the cost of the station hardware itself, which probably will cost another $10 billion. (In information released March 11, NASA suggested that it would use commercial launchers to build the station. In this case, the space agency will pay $2.5 billion per year for the SLS without using it, plus the cost of the station hardware, plus the cost of the commercial launches.) Then, following this very costly delay, an SLS launch will be used to send a crew to the station in an Orion capsule. There they will need to wait until yet another SLS launch delivers a fully fueled lander to the station, which they will use to sortie to the surface of the moon and back, after which they will ride the Orion home to Earth. So, two SLS launches will be needed at a launch cost per mission of $5 billion — if it is feasible to double the SLS launch rate to one per year. They will also need to do three mission-critical rendezvous maneuvers, including a life-critical rendezvous with the station on their way home. Since the lunar Gateway will be in an 11-day orbit, opportunities to catch the ride back to Earth will occur infrequently. If they miss the bus, they could be out of luck.

Of course, if someone were to also establish a polar moon base with propellant production capability — as proposed in the Moon Direct plan — and develop a LEV to be refueled at the base, it could be used as a reusable ferry between the moon base and the lunar Gateway. This would be a very smart thing to do, as in this case only one SLS launch would need to be used per lunar mission, to deliver the crewed Orion from Earth to the Gateway.

However, since the round-trip propulsion requirement to travel between the Gateway and the lunar surface (a delta-V of 6 km/s) is identical to that needed to fly one-way from the lunar surface to low Earth orbit, the very same LEV that might serve as a ferry between the moon base and the Gateway could also be used to fly from the moon base straight back to LEO. There it could be refitted with a crew and sufficient propellant to send it back to the moon using a single Dragon-carrying Falcon 9 launch, costing just $65 million. Not only would this reduce mission launch costs by a factor of 40, but their mission mode would be far safer, since seen from the surface of the moon, the Earth is always in the same place, so the launch window home is always open. Furthermore, in contrast to the SLS which can only hope to launch once per year, Falcon 9s are already flying twice a month. So not only will we have a moon base, but we will actually be able to use it.

In short, in return for delaying our arrival on the moon by eight years and spending $30 billion to build the Gateway, NASA will enable a lunar base program costing $2.5 billion per flight instead of $65 million per flight, and will be less safe and far less useful than would readily be possible if we had no Gateway at all!



In Phase 1 of the Moon Direct program, two Falcon Heavy boosters are used to emplace base habitation modules and other cargo on the moon. In Phase 2, one Falcon Heavy and one Falcon 9 are used to deliver the crew to the moon in a fueled Lunar Excursion Vehicle (LEV). In Phase 3, only one Falcon 9 is used to deliver the crew to orbit and refuel the LEV. The crew then flies to the moon in the LEV, which refuels at the lunar base. Credit: Robert Zubrin

Yet the problem with NASA’s planned Lunar Orbit Tollbooth (to use more accurate terminology) is much bigger than the waste of decades of time and tens of billions of dollars and the harmful distortions it would impose on subsequent mission planning. The deeper problem is the form of thinking it represents.

NASA’s astronomy and robotic planetary exploration programs have achieved epic accomplishments because they are purpose-driven. In contrast, since the end of Apollo, NASA’s human spaceflight program has been purpose-free, or to put the matter less charitably, vendor-driven. As a result, its accomplishments have been negligible.

The science programs spend money to do things. The human spaceflight program does things to spend money.

The situation is truly ironic. With the success of Falcon Heavy, America could be poised right now for a breakthrough into space. The cash available is adequate. The Lunar Orbit Tollbooth funds, if spent instead on contracts for entrepreneurial development of Moon Direct landers and excursion vehicles, could enable a return to the moon within four years. With potent lunar exploration missions requiring only a single medium-lift launch each, the moon base will be eminently sustainable, and the nation will be able to direct its heavy-lift capabilities, and with them its ambitions, toward Mars.

Instead of being uselessly confined to a can in lunar orbit, America’s astronauts can be the explorers of new worlds. As we did in the 1960s, we can once again astound the world with what free people can do. With the approach of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing reminding us of the sort of things we as a nation once accomplished, we should resolve to do no less.


Robert Zubrin is president of Pioneer Astronautics and the Mars Society, and author of the upcoming book, “The Case for Space: How the Revolution in Spaceflight Opens Up a Future of Limitless Possibility” (Prometheus 2019), from which this article is adapted.

Source: https://spacenews.com/op-ed-lunar-gateway-or-moon-direct/

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NASA outlines plan for 2024 lunar landing
by Jeff Foust — May 1, 2019 [SN]


NASA foresees developing on a minimal version of a lunar Gateway, like this industry concept, to support a human lunar landing in 2024. Credit: Lockheed Martin

WASHINGTON — While the administration continues to work on a revised budget request for carrying out the new goal of landing humans on the moon in 2024, the technical plan for doing so is starting to take shape.

In a presentation at a joint meeting of the Space Studies Board and Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board here April 30, Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, outlined the agency’s current thinking about how it could land people on the moon in 2024, albeit in a minimalistic approach.

“We’re off building that plan, and it fits on paper,” he said. “But I will tell you it is not easy and it is not risk-free.”

The approach, as he described, would require three launches of the Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket and Orion spacecraft, starting with the uncrewed Exploration Mission (EM) 1 mission already in development. That mission has suffered delays because of problems assembling the core stage of the rocket, specifically its engine section, and Gerstenmaier said the agency was taking steps, such as horizontal integration of the core stage elements, to recover some schedule.

Gerstenmaier said NASA was still considering whether to carry out the “green run” static-fire test of the SLS core stage at the Stennis Space Center, or if there are ways of “expediting” that test. The agency’s Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel, at its latest meeting April 25, recommended NASA carry out the test, and Gerstenmaier noted that the alternative of doing a brief static fire at the Kennedy Space Center — no more than 10 seconds, versus the eight-minute green run test — wouldn’t test everything they would like.

He said that, in a best-case scenario, EM-1 would launch in late 2020, “but probably more than likely some time in 2021.” A crewed test flight, EM-2, would follow in 2022, a date he said likely would not be affected by the EM-1 schedule. EM-3 would then carry out the initial lunar landing mission.

NASA, meanwhile, would be working on other elements of the lunar landing architecture. The agency announced April 26 it was modifying an upcoming broad agency announcement that is part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program that will now seek proposals for integrated lunar lander concepts. “Now we’re asking for a service of ascent, descent and transfer [stages], essentially an all-in-one service for landing,” he said.

That is a shift from earlier plans, which called for procuring the stages separately and having NASA integrate them. “We thought that might be slower, and if we gave accountability for all that to one entity, they could make those trades,” he said, such as approaches that would require only two stages. NASA might support multiple companies through at least part of the development effort “so we have the ability that, if one gets in trouble, the other one will be there.”

The plan also makes use of a minimal version of a lunar Gateway. Gerstenmaier said NASA was moving ahead with the Power and Propulsion Element, evaluating proposals submitted by industry in November. A selection, he said, should come this summer, with the unit launched by the end of 2022.

The only other element of the Gateway planned prior to a 2024 lunar landing is “some kind of docking/habitation small module,” he said. “That is all that is needed to essentially support a lunar landing.”

In an earlier presentation at the board meeting, Ryan Whitley, director of civil space policy at the National Space Council, suggested a Gateway might not be needed at all. “Some people were wondering if the Gateway was still in the plans. Well, it may not be in the initial critical path to getting to the first landing in 2024,” he said, but added it is still considered “part of the sustainable solution” for long-term lunar exploration.

He backtracked somewhat in a later question-and-answer session with board members. “We believe that a minimal Gateway is part of the 2024 solution,” he said, but wouldn’t rule out alternative approaches that don’t require a Gateway at all, such as landers that could dock directly with Orion in lunar orbit. “It’s just a matter of how that ends up playing out in the design of the systems.”

In his presentation, Gerstenmaier said even a minimal Gateway provides a place to aggregate hardware, such as the components of lunar landers. It can also serve as a “safe haven” that a lander can abort to. “It allows us to relax some of our constraints from a human-rating standpoint on the lunar landing and ascent vehicles.”


Budget uncertainty

Gerstenmaier said that the approach for a human lunar landing in 2024 is minimalistic. “I would say, for the initial 2024 landing, it’s going to be pretty Spartan,” he said when asked about the development of spacesuits for lunar excursions. “We’re looking at what the minimum is we need for suits to go out and do things. We’re going to keep that as small and as lean as we can.”

“It’s not pretty. There will not be a ton of time on the surface on this first flight,” he said. “You’re going to see a pretty minimalist kind of mission for that 2024 mission because of the constraints.”

One issue he didn’t discuss is the cost of the 2024 mission. While NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in early April at a House Science Committee hearing that a revised budget proposal to accommodate the new 2024 human lunar landing goal would be ready around or shortly after April 15, that proposal has yet to be delivered to Congress.

“Right now I’m in the process of building a compelling presentation that lays out enough details technically” to convince Congress to support the plan, Gerstenmaier said. “We’ll know in the next couple of weeks whether we’re successful or not.”

That budget amendment “is still very much in flux,” Whitley said, but didn’t discuss when it’s likely to be complete or how much additional funding it’s likely to request.

“It’s still within the administration,” James Reuter, NASA associate administrator for space technology, said of the revised budget in an April 30 presentation to the NASA Advisory Council’s technology committee. He said he didn’t expect much in the way of new details about the revised budget when Bridenstine testifies before a Senate appropriations subcommittee May 1.

“Shortly after that is the target to get it over,” he said of delivering that amended budget to Congress. “It’s recognized, to make 2024, there needs to be more budget, substantially more budget.”


Source: https://spacenews.com/nasa-outlines-plan-for-2024-lunar-landing/

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Bridenstine plays down costs of 2024 moon landing
by Jeff Foust — May 1, 2019.  Updated 6:45 p.m. Eastern. [SN]


Amid questions about the cost and timeline for developing some key technologies for a human return to the moon, like new spacesuits, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said May 1 the additional funding will not be nearly as much as some reports claimed. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told Senate appropriators May 1 that while the administration is not yet ready to release a revised budget that accommodates an accelerated human lunar landing program, the costs will not be as high as some rumors.

During a hearing of the commerce, justice and science subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee, members sought details about how much it will cost to achieve the goal announced by Vice President Mike Pence March 26 of landing humans on the south pole of the moon in the next five years.

“Someone in the administration is going to be requesting additional dollars,” said Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), chairman of the subcommittee. “Do we know what the amount of those additional dollars will be?”

Bridenstine declined to offer a dollar figure, saying that the agency submitted a “pretty good” proposal to the Office of Management and Budget, which is performing its own review along with the staff of the National Space Council. The goal, he said, is to “come up with a unified administration position” on how much additional funding NASA will request.

He downplayed reports, though, that claimed NASA would seek an additional $8 billion a year for five years. “I will tell you that is not accurate,” he said. “It is nowhere close to that amount. But I don’t want to throw out a number until we have gone through the process with OMB and the National Space Council.”

Speculation has focused on a smaller, but still significant, increase of about $3 billion to $5 billion a year. That revised budget proposal is expected to be delivered to Congress in the near future, but Bridenstine didn’t give a specific date he thought it would be ready.

Bridenstine emphasized in his testimony that NASA could land humans on the moon in 2024 with existing technology. “We are very capable of achieving that end state,” he said of the lunar landing goal. “Technologically, everything we need to accomplish that is there.”

Moving up the landing from 2028, the deadline NASA had set prior to Pence’s speech, to 2024 primarily involves accelerating programs and their funding, in particular lunar landers, which he said will receive most of the additional funding. “The only thing we need to do is take those elements that were going to be funded in those other years and move them forward,” he said. “Think of this, in essence, as a surge of funding for the purpose of getting to the moon in the next five years.”

He argued that a sprint to the moon is more likely to be successful that a longer program. “The longer the program goes, the more difficult it becomes to achieve the end states because of the political risks,” he said, citing examples like the Space Exploration Initiative and the Vision for Space Exploration. “The faster we go, the more likely it is that we can realize the end state.”

Bridenstine, though, faced skepticism about that 2024 deadline from one committee member. “Our policy decisions here need to be driven by the science and not by political calendars,” said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.)


Commercial crew investigation

During the brief hearing, truncated because of votes on the Senate floor, Bridenstine also faced questions from the chairman of the full committee, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), about the April 20 mishap involving a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle that was performing a static-fire test of its SuperDraco abort thrusters at Cape Canaveral.

“The most recent SpaceX anomaly caused the complete loss of the crew capsule,” Shelby said, among the first public statements about the extent of the damage the capsule suffered in that test. Neither SpaceX nor NASA have released many details about the incident since it took place.

Shelby questioned the propriety of SpaceX leading the investigation without a parallel, independent NASA investigation. “It seems more than appropriate for NASA, of all agencies, to conduct its own independent investigation to ensure, of course, crew safety,” Shelby said.

Bridenstine defended the current approach, which he said involved NASA “side by side” with SpaceX. “Can you be independent and reach independent conclusions if you’re doing something jointly with somebody?” asked Shelby.

“The engineers that we have at NASA are extremely sensitive to what we are trying to achieve,” Bridenstine said. “I have every confidence they will, as SpaceX conducts the investigation with our engineers, that we will get very accurate information.”

“That’s not the norm, I don’t believe,” Shelby insisted of the structure of the investigation. “We’ll check that out.”


Source: https://spacenews.com/bridenstine-plays-down-costs-of-2024-moon-landing/

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ISS partners endorse modified Gateway plans
by Jeff Foust — August 30, 2019 [SN]


While NASA intends to develop only a minimal lunar Gateway to support a human lunar landing in 2024, it and the other ISS partners remain interested in later expanding the Gateway with additional modules. Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON — NASA’s partners in the International Space Station remain committed to participating in the lunar Gateway despite changes to the program earlier this year that could delay their contributions to the outpost.

In an Aug. 28 statement, members of the station’s Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB), which includes the five space agencies involved in the ISS, said the Gateway is “a critical next step” in human space exploration and that they plan to contribute modules or other elements for the facility in lunar orbit.

“Looking to exploration activities beyond LEO, the MCB members reaffirmed their continued intention to cooperate on a human outpost in the lunar vicinity – Gateway,” the document, a summary of the board’s Aug. 6 meeting, stated. “Within a broader open architecture for human exploration, the MCB acknowledged the Gateway as a critical next step.”

The board offered a similar endorsement of the Gateway at a March 5 meeting. The statement from that meeting included a diagram of one Gateway configuration, with contributions from Canada, Europe, Japan and Russia, as well as the United States, identified.

Three weeks after that meeting, though, Vice President Mike Pence announced at a meeting of the National Space Council that the U.S. would speed up its lunar exploration timeline, seeking to land astronauts on the moon by 2024, rather than prior plans for a 2028 landing. NASA subsequently said that it would initially pursue a minimal Gateway needed for that 2024 landing, deferring full-fledged development of the Gateway for a second phase intended to enable “sustainable” lunar exploration in the second half of the 2020s.

That minimal Gateway will include just the Power and Propulsion Element, which will generate power for the Gateway and provide electrical propulsion, as well as a “mini-hab” module NASA now calls the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). NASA awarded a contract to Maxar Technologies in May to develop the Power and Propulsion Element, and in July announced its intent to award a sole-source contract to Northrop Grumman for HALO after determining that company was the only one that could have a module ready in time to support a 2024 landing mission.

Those two modules, along with the Space Launch System and Orion vehicles and lunar landers, “will help enable the Artemis program’s plans for a 2024 human lunar landing mission and ensure compatibility and technical capability for the Gateway partnership,” the statement concluded.

Other ISS partners, though, remain interested in providing elements for the Gateway’s later phase, the statement added. “The MCB members shared the view that the Gateway will become a sustainable exploration infrastructure supporting further lunar and Mars exploration objectives when additional capabilities are provided through the Gateway partnership.”

Canada, which announced in February it would develop the Canadarm3 robotic arm system for the Gateway, continues to pursue work on that, awarding contracts in August for initial studies of the arm’s design. The statement noted that Japan is studying potential “habitation functions and logistics resupply” capabilities for the Gateway, and Roscosmos is planning a multipurpose airlock module. The European Space Agency will decide at its November ministerial meeting what roles it will play in the Gateway, which may include a habitation module, communications and refueling capabilities, and a science airlock.

The statement didn’t identify what additional elements NASA would provide for the Gateway in this later phase. In addition to the two initial elements, NASA issued a call for proposals Aug. 16 for commercial logistics services for the Gateway, modeled on the commercial cargo program for the ISS. Some in industry expect NASA to pursue development of a full-sized habitation module to supplement HALO and any international partner habitats.

“The partnership will coordinate to ensure Gateway development continues in a timely manner to realize near and long-term goals, prepare for early utilization activities on Gateway, and consider opportunities for further cooperation related to lunar surface exploration – leading to the exploration of Mars,” the statement concluded, but didn’t give a schedule for Gateway development beyond the initial capabilities needed for the 2024 landing.


Source: https://spacenews.com/iss-partners-endorse-modified-gateway-plans/