Gateway station: passage to the lunar line, access to the Martian station


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Gateway station: passage to the lunar line, access to the Martian station

The debate about how it is better to expand into space is likely not to subside even when humanity has mastered the solar system, but will move to the plane of an alternative history: “At the beginning of the 21st century, it was necessary to build a lunar base! No, the orbital station! No, all efforts were to be thrown to Mars! ”Be that as it may, now the main direction of movement is the lunar orbital station Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway and landing on the moon since 2024.


Gateway by the artist

Planned

The idea of ​​"returning to the moon" has been exaggerated in US space circles for a long time. As they say, there would be no happiness, but misfortune helped. The crash of the shuttle Columbia in 2003 doomed the program to close, and the obvious question arose of where to go next. In 2004, the then US president challenged NASA to expand its presence in the solar system. The result was the Constellation (Constellation) program, which was supposed to return to the moon, and the ultimate goal was to fly to Mars. The program could not survive the end of Bush’s second term and was closed shortly after the election of Barack Obama. The new version of the program was aimed more likely at Mars, and it was proposed to “train” before the flight on a mission to tow an asteroid into orbit around the moon. The new president, Trump, has shifted the focus of the program – now the goal is to return to the moon, and the means will be the near-moon station, after several renames, called the “Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway” or just Gateway. But in general, the program was called "Artemis." The name is symbolic because Artemis is the sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon, and also because the goal of the program is “the landing of the first woman and the next man on the moon”.


Station Configuration, Spring 2019, NASA Image

To date, two modules have been contracted and are in production. Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) grew out of an asteroid redirection mission. It is, in fact, a tug with large solar panels and an electric jet engine. His task will be to keep the Gateway in a halo orbit (a very elongated ellipse with a height of 3,000 to 70,000 km above the Moon). Minimal Habitation Module (MHM), aka Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), is based on technological solutions of the Cygnus cargo ship (flies to the ISS) and will be a small sealed compartment in which you can live and work. The concept of the station is in the process of development, so several more modules – logistics (warehouses), inhabited, lock, can either go to the moon or stay on paper.

For the first time, NASA’s budget for 2019 introduced an expenditure item on Gateway for which Congress allocated $ 450 million (it is important to note that four billion were allocated for the SLS launcher and Orion ship, which will fly to this station, for 2019, and in total they have already spent 30 billion).

More recently, the moon landing was planned for 2028. But in May 2019, Vice President Mike Pence announced a four-year postponement of the “left”, and now 2024 is considered the target. It should be noted that this will be the year of US elections, which are traditionally held in November, and, depending whether NASA manages to meet deadlines, the landing will be either a beautiful end to the term of the winner of the 2020 elections, or, given that complex space projects constantly strive to go “to the right,” it will be at the beginning of the term of the winner of the election-2024. After the newly elected Obama canceled Constellation in 2009, a change of president in the White House can be seen as an additional risk, but with every new dollar spent, the likelihood of cancellation or major change to the project is reduced.

At the same time, simultaneously with the usual rigid structures, transformable (inflatable) modules are also considered. Two companies reached the highest readiness: Bigelow Aerospace, whose module passed a two-week ground test at NASA, and Sierra Nevada Corporation, which successfully completed three-day tests. Despite the understandable suspicions about the safety of inflatable modules in a space vacuum, many years of testing speak in their favor. In 2006 and 2007, Bigelow Aerospace inflatable Genesis 1 and 2, successfully flying so far, went into orbit. In 2016, the BEAM inflatable module was installed on the ISS, which already serves as an additional warehouse, despite the fact that it was originally intended to be tested for only two years.

In parallel with the modules, other necessary equipment is being developed. A theoretical calculation of the orbit of the future station would have to check the 12U cubesat (about the size of a microwave), which could go on a flight already in December 2020. From 2021, it is supposed to launch small unmanned landing vehicles of three companies to the Moon: Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and Orbit Beyond, which will test new technical solutions and bring NASA scientific experiments to the surface of the moon. It is also interesting to note that as launch vehicles for PPE and HALO modules, “commercial carriers” are indicated, which may be the flying Falcon Heavy or the Vulcan, New Glenn or Omega that are in the process of being created, but the manned spacecraft Orion will be displayed under development since 2011, the Space Launch System (SLS) super-heavy launch vehicle, which has made extensive use of Space Shuttle technology.


The assembled central unit (second stage) SLS is sent for testing to the space center named after John Stennis, NASA photo

Already unmanned missions are being prepared, which they plan to carry out using Gateway. The HERACLES unmanned lander proposed by the European Space Agency will have to store samples from the lunar surface at the station, from where astronauts can then pick them up. It will even be possible to reuse the take-off stage by delivering to it a new landing stage and fuel supply from the Earth. It is assumed that the rover included in the mission will be controlled both from the Earth (with a delay of 1 second) and directly by astronauts from the Gateway. The question of the possibility of refueling and reuse of manned modules is also being studied.

The last meeting of the multilateral coordination commission on the ISS, at which Gateway work was also discussed, was held on August 6, 2019. At it, NASA announced the selection of a contractor for PPE production, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan said looking for ways to provide habitability and logistics opportunities. The Canadian Space Agency said that after announcing its participation in the Gateway project in February 2019, it began a formal search process for suppliers for the Canadarm3 manipulator (the first version of the manipulator worked on shuttles, the second on the ISS). The European Space Agency has informed that it is seeking official approval from the participating states for the creation of an international inhabited I-HAB module, enhanced communication capabilities, a scientific gateway and the following Orion spacecraft service modules (command module is manufactured by NASA, service module is ESA). And Roskosmos said that it was going to produce a multi-purpose gateway module for the station. In December 2019, news appeared that Roscosmos confirmed its willingness to participate in further negotiations on the station project.

New opportunities

The station in the lunar orbit will solve new problems. First of all, the ISS, although it is in space and is exposed to cosmic radiation, is in light conditions – it is covered by the Earth’s radiation belts. The first manned flight to the station with a landing on the moon is expected to last about a month, and this will be a new record for the duration of a person being outside the radiation belts – the Apollo missions lasted a little less than two weeks, of which the longest, Apollo 17 ”, Spent 147 hours in orbit of the moon. At the same time, astronauts were lucky – solar flares did not occur during the missions. Until now, it is impossible to accurately predict the time and direction of the ejection to the Sun, so long-term shifts at the near-moon station may well collide with them. In this case, the astronauts will most likely have to use the maximum protected compartment, the Orion, as a refuge. Calculations made for the Apollo program say that in a thick-walled command module, even in the event of a very strong solar storm, astronauts will be able to remain operational and safely complete the mission. But real experience can bring important data to clarify the calculations.


Astronauts of the 22nd squad (recruitment 2017) at the graduation ceremony on January 10 of this year. They are the ones who have the chance to work on Gateway

Further, with all its merits, the functioning of the ISS is very different from what will happen on an interplanetary ship. The station receives a large number of supplies from the Earth and does not spend them very economically. Astronauts and astronauts eat ready-made food in disposable packaging, change clothes, throwing away used ones, use disposable hygiene products. In 2018, cargo ships delivered more than 28 tons of supplies to the ISS and burned comparable amounts of debris in the atmosphere. Even in the case of the worst accident, you can quickly board the ship and return home that day. A near-moon station can become a testing ground for lean technologies and maximally closed life-support systems. After working out in fairly comfortable conditions, when it is still possible to return to Earth within three days, technological developments will be able to generate solutions for interplanetary flights, when there will be months of flight to Earth. It is curious that now they are going to put the garbage at Gateway into logistic modules, which creates the need to solve the problem of its long-term storage (the requirements indicate periods of up to three years). But alternatives are possible – in the Apollo program, the third stage of the Saturn V rocket was deliberately pushed against the Moon in order to record the impact by seismic sensors installed by previous expeditions. Theoretically, nothing hinders dropping garbage ships onto the moon with garbage, not only reliably disposing of it, but also collecting scientific data.

Despite the fact that automatic interplanetary stations fly to the moon not so rarely, the appearance of a person in orbit will increase the number of scientific equipment and experiments by orders of magnitude simply because more money is spent on manned programs. So far, the station is supposed to be visited, unlike the permanently inhabited ISS, crews will arrive for 30-60 days once a year, but this will still cause serious revival in scientific programs. In addition to geological research, experiments are already planned with the use of materials (delivered from the landing sites) that will allow experimenting with technologies for the construction and operation of a base on the lunar surface. It is also logical to set up botanical, zoological and medical experiments. And the fact that the station will be far from terrestrial interference will allow for astronomical research.


Orbit and fuel consumption for transitions, source

And finally, in the distant future, the station can serve as a starting point for the Martian ship. It has a very suitable orbit – in the apocenter (the point farthest from the Moon), it is located far from the gravitational well of both the Moon and the Earth, and powerful engines and high fuel consumption are not needed to go to Mars. And if the station becomes permanently inhabited, then this will be a great place to build an interplanetary ship – new modules can be received and tested, and the crew will only have to take seats in the prepared and tested spacecraft for the flight. But this is a matter of the future, in missions proposed until 2028 only landing on the moon.

Material prepared for the journal "Universe, Space, Time", published in the author’s edition.

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