U.S. to Lead Lunar Orbit Station for Moon, Mars Missions

NASA to Develop New Lunar Orbit Station for Moon and Mars Missions

On March 31, the China Enterprise News Observation reported that NASA and its partners are collaborating to develop a novel long-term space station to operate near the Moon, serving as a “way station” for missions to the Moon and Mars.

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According to NASA, the space station named “Lunar Gateway” is scheduled to transport its first modules into space as early as 2025, with full operation expected to commence in 2028 or later. Similar to the International Space Station, this project involves cooperation between space agencies from the United States, Europe, Japan, Canada, and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated budget of several billion US dollars.

In contrast to the International Space Station orbiting in low Earth orbit, the “Lunar Gateway” will be positioned in a Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit between Earth and the Moon, swinging close to Earth and the Moon, with its closest distance to the lunar surface being only about 2000 miles (approximately 3218.69 kilometers).

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NASA Administrator Bill Nelson announced the UAE’s participation in the project in January, stating, “Through the Artemis program, we are ushering in a new era of exploration, and peaceful international cooperation in space exploration strengthens this era. The EVA system provided by the UAE will enable astronauts to conduct groundbreaking scientific tasks in deep space and prepare for human missions to Mars.”

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NASA stated that the “Lunar Gateway” will serve as a waypoint for astronaut work, future missions, and spacewalks. The first two modules of the space station are currently being built by Maxar and Northrop Grumman, planned to be launched into orbit by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rockets from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

During the “Artemis IV” mission, four astronauts will be sent to the lunar space station to activate its computer systems. Subsequently, two astronauts will leave the space station for a six-day mission on the lunar surface, while the other two will remain inside the station to conduct research and continue equipment assembly work.

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Upon completion of the mission, all astronauts will rendezvous at the “Lunar Gateway” and then return to Earth aboard the Orion spacecraft.

After decades of operation, global space agencies plan to retire the International Space Station around 2030. NASA explained that the extreme temperatures, pressures, and other environmental factors in space make it impossible for the space station to operate indefinitely. NASA is currently planning to construct a retired propulsion module to safely deorbit the ISS. This module will allow controlled deorbiting before the space station re-enters Earth’s atmosphere, ensuring it falls into a designated remote area of the ocean, thus minimizing any potential threat to humanity.

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