A space station could be orbiting the Moon within a decade, in a potential future project between NASA and private space developers. The first launch to create the space station could occur in just four years.
The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will be a small space station, in orbit about the Moon, which could serve as a stepping-off point for astronauts traveling to the lunar surface, or even Mars.
“The platform will consist of at least a power and propulsion element and habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities. While specific technical and mission capabilities as well as partnership opportunities are under consideration, NASA plans to launch elements of the gateway on the agency’s Space Launch System or commercial rockets for assembly in space” NASA reported.
An international group of government and private agencies will work together to create the lunar outpost. Visitors to the station will stay for between 30 and 60 days at a time. An airlock will allow crews to perform spacewalks, as well as carry out maintenance on the orbiter.
Propulsion and electrical systems are due for launch in 2022, with habitation modules coming soon after. Once in orbit, the crew would receive supplies from commercial missions.
Once fully in operation, space travellers will carry out missions to gather resources from the lunar surface, and manufacture items they need aboard the station.
“The power and propulsion element will also provide high-rate and reliable communications for the gateway including space-to-Earth and space-to-lunar uplinks and downlinks, spacecraft-to-spacecraft crosslinks, and support for spacewalk communications. Finally, it also can accommodate an optical communications demonstration – using lasers to transfer large data packages at faster rates than traditional radio frequency systems,” the space agency predicts.
So far, only 12 people have walked on the Moon, between 1969 and 1972. Since then, humans have not ventured past low-Earth orbit.