The first two modules of NASA’s Lunar Gateway space station will be launched together on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, it has been announced.
The agency confirmed the decision to award the contract for the mission to Elon Musk’s private aerospace manufacturer on Wednesday (February 10).
The launch flight, which is currently slated to take place “no earlier than” May 2024, will deliver the Gateway’s Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) as well as its Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) into orbit around the Moon.
The space station, which will be roughly one sixth the size of the International Space Station, will serve as a command centre for NASA’s next wave of Moon exploration missions, Project Artemis.
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Until recently, the two modules had been slated to be launched separately, because there was rocket booster capable of lifting them both out of the Earth’s gravity, but NASA has now approved SpaceX's reusable Falcon Heavy rocket.
The huge rocket’s first flight was in 2018, when it was used to lift a Tesla Roadster towards the orbit of Mars.
Since then it has been mentioned several times in connection with the Artemis program, although compatibility issue mean that NASA’s own SLS will be used for most of the manned missions.
Launching both models together will be a money-saving move for NASA, as the single Falcon Heavy launch will cost a comparatively thrifty $331.8 million, significantly less than two SpaceX Delta IV Heavy launches which come in at some $400 million apiece.
Once the Gateway components are in orbit around the Moon, a service module carrying the essential elements for human habitation, such as oxygen, water recycling and heating, will be launched during NASA’s second SLS mission.
That mission, known as Artemis 2, will be the first crewed mission of the Artemis program, and the first step towards a new wave of Moon landings
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