Nasa is building a deep space gateway for manned missions to the Moon and Mars

The deep space gateway will be a long lasting, flexible, reusable, and sustainable infrastructure, meant to be in operation for decades of human spaceflight.

Nasa is getting serious about taking up longer manned missions, including revisiting the Moon and sending the first pioneers to Mars. The space agency is in the process of testing AstroRad Radiation Shield for astronauts on deep space missions, including to the Moon and Mars. A dedicated team has been formed as a Toolbox for Research and Exploration, to formulate new approaches for manned interplanetary trips within the Solar System. Now Nasa wants to put a space base in orbit around the Moon.

Nasa is building a deep space gateway for manned missions to the Moon and Mars

A sculpture of a man wearing Stemrad's new protective vest, Astrorad. Image: REUTERS/Amir Cohen.

The base is at first meant to be a platform for testing new and emerging technologies for deep space missions. The space station in cis-lunar orbit will later on serve as the base of operations for deep space missions to Mars and beyond, as well as both manned and unmanned excursions to the Lunar surface. Nasa has announced that it is tying up with private industry partners to solve the challenges of deep space exploration.

Nasa's Journey to Mars uses technologies from various private spaceflight companies. Image: Nasa

Nasa's Journey to Mars uses technologies from various private spaceflight companies. Image: Nasa

The deep space gateway will be a long lasting, flexible, reusable, and sustainable infrastructure, meant to be in operation for decades of human spaceflight. The essentials of the deep space gateway are a power bus, a high power propulsion system based on electricity, a habitat for crew members, docking capacity for interfacing with various cargo and crew spacecraft, an airlock, and a logistics module for research. The life support system is being tested on the International Space Station (ISS) and the propulsion systems as well as the habitats are being developed.

Equipment for the deep space base is being tested on the ISS. Image Credit: Reuters

Equipment for the deep space gateway is being tested on the ISS. Image Credit: Reuters

The lunar deep space gateway is meant to be built over a series of Space Launch System (SLS) missions and the Orion spacecraft. The SLS system is being developed by Nasa, and is the next generation of launch vehicles. Donald Trump wants Nasa to fly astronauts on the maiden flight of the SLS.

William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at Nasa says, "I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions."

An artist's conception of the SLS rocket. Image: Nasa.

An artist's conception of the SLS rocket. Image: Nasa.

In 2020, Nasa plans to test a deep space transport spacecraft in the vicinity of the Moon for a year. The testing is to evaluate the preparedness of the spacecraft to undertake missions to Mars. The deep space transport spacecraft is designed to be re-used, and hop between orbits around the Moon and Mars at regular intervals. Nasa has proposed the plan and invited inputs from the private sector on how to actually execute it.

An artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft. Image: Nasa.

An artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft. Image: Nasa.

Boeing was one of the first to respond, with concepts for deep space missions to both the Mars and the Moon. A Solar Electric Propulsion system is used, with designs that are based on the leanings from the 702 satellite family. Pete McGrath, director of global sales and marketing for Boeing’s space exploration division says, "The ability to simultaneously launch humans and cargo on SLS would allow us to assemble the gateway in four launches in the early 2020s."

The Boeing concept for the deep space transit vehicle to take humans to Mars.

The Boeing concept for the deep space transit vehicle to take humans to Mars.

The deep space gateway is a progression of the knowledge gained by building, servicing, maintaining and conducting experiments on board the ISS. The area near the Moon offers a deep space environment for testing the new and emerging techniques for exploration. Robotic missions to the lunar surface can be launched as needed, with the ability to return to Earth in days as against months. Nasa currently plans to launch one SLS mission to the deep space gateway every year.

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