It is expected that NASA will be very busy in 2019. During the Space Symposium conference in Colorado Springs, William Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator revealed that NASA would start awarding contracts for its lunar “Gateway” project. Its main goal is to have four astronauts that will orbit around the moon in 2015. 

NASA has already started the process of building the Lunar Orbital Platform- Gateway by starting with contracts for propulsion components and power which are followed by logistics, habitations as well as airlocks. These components will be announced, and the Gateway constructed in space will begin by 2022. 

Gerstenmaier said, “The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway” will give us a strategic presence in lunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the moon and its resources. We will ultimately translate that experience into human missions to Mars.

The Orion spacecraft, which is developed by Lockheed Martin, will be responsible for providing trips to the Gateway aboard the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Lockheed said that “Development of the gateway has great momentum, and we are providing our expertise as NASA looks to industry to bring know-how to this important effort.”

There is a plan that the Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1), the first-ever unmanned Orion test flight will be conducted in2019. It has a three-week mission that will take within 62 miles of the lunar surface and orbit some 40,000 miles high before its return to Earth. On the other hand, a manned test flight is planned to be conducted in 2023. 

Gerstenmaier added “We want to understand orbital mechanics around the moon. Doing things in this region, where gravity isn’t such a big driver is a different way of operating.” Future experiments will identify whether water can be extracted from the lunar surface and can be used to formulate propellant for future projects and missions. 

NASA explained that “The Gateway will allow further lunar exploration and even a staging area for exploration of the solar system. Furthermore, the gravity of the moon can also help to slow the spacecraft down after their six-month journey from the Red Planet, before they re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.”

Gerstenmaier emphasized that “Agency’s goals are realistic from a budgetary standpoint and added that collaboration with commercial partners would expand the opportunities and capabilities in deep space. As long as we view the moon as a stepping stone and not an end goal, I think we’re OK.”