The European Space Agency (ESA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on Tuesday (October 27th) formalizing the collaboration on Gateway, a planned outpost in lunar orbit that NASA sees as key to its intention Artemis program the manned lunar exploration.As part of this new agreement, ESA Gateway will provide a residential module and a refueling module, both of which will be operated by the European agency as soon as the hardware is operational. The ESA contributions also include two additional service modules for NASA’s Orion capsule, the spaceship that transports Artemis astronauts from Earth to the top of the agency Space launch system (SLS) missiles.
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In return, ESA will receive three flight options for European astronauts to take off and work on board Tor.
“This partnership takes advantage of the excellent cooperation of the International Space Station on the way to the moon,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement ttoday. “Gateway will continue to expand NASA’s collaboration with international partners such as ESA and ensure that the Artemis program leads to safe and sustainable exploration of the moon after the first human moon landing and beyond.”
This first crewed landing is scheduled to take place near the lunar south pole in 2024. Gateway is unlikely to be involved in this epic touchdown, but NASA believes the orbit outpost plays a huge role in Artemis’ longer-term goal of building a sustainable human presence on and around the lunar surface.
The gateway, which will be about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, will serve as a base and departure point for excursions to the lunar surface, both crewed and unmanned, according to NASA officials.
“The gateway is expected to be complemented by additional functionality provided by our international partners to support sustainable exploration,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA assistant administrator for the directorate for Human Exploration and Operations Mission at NASA headquarters, in the same statement. “Gateway will give us access to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, and we are excited to have partners like ESA support us in this groundbreaking effort.”
The first two parts of Gateway, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), are to be rolled out together on an SLS in November 2023. These elements are provided by American companies with Maxar Technologies, the PSA and Northrop Grumman build HALO.
The European habitat module, known as I-Hab, will expand more than just HALO. I-Hab will be “the main habitat for astronauts when they visit the gateway,” according to ESA officials said in a statement today. I-Hab will draw on contributions from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and provide two docking ports for manned human landers, NASA officials said.
These human landers are built by one or more American companies. Earlier this year, NASA placed contracts with three private groups – Dynetics, SpaceX, and The National Team, led by Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin Development of lander concepts with crew. The agency is expected to select one or more of these ideas for further development in early 2021.
The refueling module provided by ESA, named Esprit, will have a large window that looks like the dome built in Europe International space stationESA officials said. In addition to its fueling function, Esprit will enhance Gateway’s communication capabilities.
“This declaration of intent marks a critical point on Europe’s path: It confirms that we are on the way to the moon not only in terms of equipment and technology, but also with our employees,” said ESA Director General Jan Wörner in the ESA declaration .
“Together with NASA and our partners, Europe will play a central role in the new era of global space research and provide exemplary, groundbreaking architectures for the exploration of the moon and Mars and inspire future generations,” said Wörner.
The newly announced declaration of intent also contributes to Artemis’ international flair. For example, earlier this month NASA announced that eight nations had done so signed the Artemis Agreement, a set of principles that outline responsible exploration of the moon and pave the way for these countries to participate in the Artemis program.
Mike Wall is the author of Out There (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for another life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.
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