Gateway lunar base: NASA mistake, or the future of space exploration?

Year: 2026. Experienced astronaut Nicole Mann takes his team of four through the hatch of the spacecraft 'Orion "to a small space station near the moon. Inside the cabin smells like a new car. Outside, a beautiful view. Hanging over the station half moon reflects sunlight - silver, quiet, luminous. Deeper into the cosmos looked through the second half of the sphere. Somewhere in the distance disco light green earth and the sun. The cradle of humanity and its future among the stars - all here.

Gateway lunar base: NASA mistake, or the future of space exploration?

49-year-old Mann with the call sign "The Duchess" begins a series of communication tests. The delay of two seconds heralds response mission control center, after which there was applause and congratulations. For decades after the "Apollo" people were squeezed in low-Earth orbit. No more. After Mann team will hold a couple of weeks, putting in order the new "gateway" to the orbit of the moon, NASA will be able to plan a mission into deep space again. Hence, people will be able to go down and on the surface of the moon, and to finish the preparations for missions to Mars.

Why NASA base in the orbit of the moon?

Here's a scenario are the Congress, the White House and the American public, the moon reflecting on the space station, which NASA wants to build in the 2020s. "I imagine it as a space port, dry dock for running activities," said Jason Krusan, NASA senior officer of the department in charge of the development of Gateway Project.

Over the past three years Krusan and other leaders of the human forces in NASA research very well honed and refined Gateway plan and, more importantly, provide the rationale for the creation of an outpost near the moon. As long as their plan is working. US Vice President Mike Pence approved the Gateway, as well as the new administrator of NASA Jim Bridenstayn.

"There is no other architecture, which seems to me to reflect the current budget that we have, which allows to do all that we want," says Bridenstayn. "So I came to the conclusion that the Gateway - the right approach."

NASA also won the lion's share of aerospace contractors and huge armies of lobbyists, was offered a contract to build six different designs of residential Gateway module. Moreover, agency officials have repeatedly said they will invite commercial companies like SpaceX to deliver cargo and service stations. Almost everyone has a good chance to grab a piece of work on the Gateway.

Critics, there are not many reasons to consider - public, anyway. But they stayed and they raise reasonable questions about the moon "Gateway". Robert Zubrin, an aerospace engineer at a high profile, has become the main antagonist.

"This is a new quantum leap in quicksand," Zubrin said during a recent meeting of The Mars Society. "If you want to send people to the moon or to Mars, would you spend the money to create a base on the moon's orbit on the way? No".

Zubrin and others argue that the Gateway is not in order to smooth the path of NASA to the moon or Mars, but in order to become a target for doroguschy rocket space agency, Space Launch System, and the spacecraft 'Orion'. These vehicles are built for NASA by large aerospace companies with hundreds of contractors across the country, can not just pick up and go to the moon or Mars. Collectively, they are not powerful. NASA is already ten years trying to come up with a justification for them. Finally, all boils down to the concept of Gateway.

"Let's be honest," said Zubrin. "This is a program that is not dictated by the goal, but suppliers. Imagine that you run your business to cater to your vendors. "

Get to the gateway

It is not necessary to raise the annals of the history of the space policy to understand why NASA is now supporting the development of lunar gateway, which will cost at least $ 10 billion and a maximum - a lot more. But a bit of history will not hurt.

Briefly, it was this: in 2004 George W. Bush wanted to send people to the moon and to Mars. NASA engineers under the leadership of Administrator Mike Griffin said the development of large, expensive system to achieve this goal, which has never funded properly. When the president was Barack Obama, he canceled the return humans to the moon, because the money is not enough, and the implementation of the plan has been much delayed. He also abolished the development of a huge rocket and spacecraft Griffin. Fearing the loss of jobs and the institutional status of NASA, Congress put pressure on Obama. Although the moon disappeared from the plans, NASA ckazal build a big rocket - now it is called the Space Launch System - and to continue to develop a spacecraft 'Orion'.

There was a big problem. What to do with SLS and Orion? Critics began to sing that SLS - is "a rocket to nowhere" because NASA do not need it. Of course, the rocket and the machine can fly around the moon, to repeat the mission "Apollo 8" in 1968, but land on another world with gravity, they can not.

Gateway lunar base: NASA mistake, or the future of space exploration?

In the end, the Obama administration has solved this problem by introducing a new objective, proposed by a blue-ribbon panel, known as the Commission "Augustine." "By 2025, we expect new spacecraft designed for long journeys, will allow us to carry out the first ever manned missions beyond the moon into deep space," Obama said in 2010. "For the first time in history we will send astronauts to an asteroid." At first the idea seemed good. Asteroid proposed a new destination and also solve the problem with a small gravity. NASA could go there without the need for expensive devices for lowering and lifting, which could not afford because of inflated costs on the SLS and Orion (more than $ 3 billion a year).

Unfortunately, after several years of research, scientists have failed to find a suitable asteroid, which would be close enough to the Earth to the astronauts could quickly get to it, because the machine "Orion" allows the team to spend only 21 days in deep space. NASA concluded that he had a limited budget and do not have enough tools to send humans to an asteroid until 2025 - and indeed to any year.

Thus, in the middle of this decade, the agency clever engineers have developed a plan that will both sell and technically fit for purpose president to visit an asteroid until 2025. Elegant in appearance mission was a little trick. As part of the Asteroid Redirect Mission agency must send a robotic device from the solar system, so he grabbed a stone the size of a jeep on the asteroid's surface and dragged him in the vicinity of the Moon. And in 2025 he would have visited the astronauts with the "Orion". It was obvious that the mission will be canceled, even before Obama left the White House.

And now, three years ago, when NASA has spent nearly 20 billion dollars for SLS and Orion development, the agency again needed something to do with these devices.

Over time, engineers from the Space Center. Johnson, with the support of other centers, developed a lunar "Gateway" (Gateway). Why not? NASA already knows how to design and build the space station - in the end, the International Space Station is still working. New outpost could be placed far enough away from the gravity of the Moon to SLS and Orion can be used to construct a Gateway, and when the gateway will complete, NASA launches the annual SLS guarantees to deliver crews to get to the 30- and 60-day mission. Gateway has decided to NASA policy and technical issues. Therefore, when the mission to an asteroid died prematurely, Gateway has been set in motion. The plan provided a legion of NASA contractors work, and Gateway elements can be produced in such a way that they can only be delivered to the SLS, but no more than cheap and low-power rockets.

Arguments "for"

so soon it happened. NASA started to carry out academic meetings with scientists, which could contribute to the creation of a stable platform to lunar orbit. They have been working with flight controllers and experts in the performance of people in order to understand how it was possible to test the system on the Gateway and better understand the effects that has on the health of deep space, and how to build a more robust system that will keep the astronauts life during long trips Mars. The agency has also attracted international and commercial partners to assist with the lander, which could travel with the Gateway directly to the moon.

In early August, Ars resource Bridenstayna asked about changing attitudes towards the Gateway. As a congressman, he kept skeptical about Gateway. Lunar ice and asteroids are the resources that he wanted to develop, anyway, not in a few thousands of kilometers away from the moon. But Bridenstayn said that he understood that the lunar outpost could do for space exploration, he changed his mind. "I will never share the same opinion. Time spent in NASA's, changed my views. "

Due to the limited room for maneuver, "Orion", measured formally as delta-v, NASA plans to place Gateway to the so-called halo orbit is almost straight. This elliptical orbit puts the Gateway within 1,500 kilometers of the lunar surface, but also takes up to 70 000 kilometers. Conversely, low lunar orbit is 100 kilometers from the lunar surface. Bridenstayn, which strongly supports the private companies who want to work with NASA's, reduce the cost of space missions and to develop a reusable system, claimed that the Gateway will provide critical infrastructure around the Moon for commercial partners.

"This is not the best option to reach the surface of the moon, but it at least allows us to remain in this orbit for a very long period with minimal motor skills," he says. "We want more people to have access to the lunar surface and so that more people have access to the lunar orbit than ever before."

By limiting the size of Gateway, NASA is not trying to build a second international space station, huge in size, volume and cost. This facility, which is located within walking distance in low Earth orbit, has managed NASA and its international partners in the $ 100 billion and more than a decade of construction in space.

NASA also plans to source Gateway served as a template for second-like structures that could serve as a vehicle in deep space and, ultimately, deliver humans to Mars. First Gateway, leaves, will serve as a testbed for technologies needed to reach Mars. Today, for example, some of the life support systems components work about six months in advance. NASA would like to bring this technology to the 30-month cycle uptime for transport in deep space.

Finally, Bridenstayn alleged that Gateway, rather than a series of missions to the lunar surface forever mark the NASA impact beyond low Earth orbit.

"The last thing we want to see the surface of the moon, to prove that we can do it, and that was to finish," he said. "We want to stay there. And I was convinced that the Gateway will allow us to take advantage of the commercial and international partners so that we stay there and explore more of the moon than ever, and then'll move to Mars. "

Stuck with the Moon

Bob Zubrin wants nothing but to get to Mars. He offered various options for space-based architecture that would allow NASA using commercial companies to send people straight to Mars. But Zubrin bowed to the desire of the White House, Congress, and now NASA will focus on that first visit the moon.

"Program for NASA human missions need a purpose, and that purpose must be Mars," he says. "But if they are not yet ready for such a contest, I can only sympathize." Perhaps he complains, NASA needed to gain confidence again, which he had in the 1960s, in the glorious days of "Apollo."

In this case, Zubrin and other critics see Gateway appendix deadlock branch of development, which will join the tens of billions of dollars of funding and the development of the decade, which could otherwise be devoted to visiting another world. While NASA may actually provide a firm stand in deep space, who will need a place, if it does not bring to the NASA long-term stay on the Moon or Mars?

"This puts the responsibility for the program, we just stuck to it," he says. "It will cost many billions per year. We can see how NASA is waiting for the International Space Station completes its existence because of budget requirements. So they propose to build another such? ".

Zubrin offered an alternative to the White House, which he called Moon Direct ( "Lunar direction"). In it, he stressed maximum access to the surface of the moon, at least development and recurrent costs, a minimum schedule and minimal risk. No, he did not give all the answers (although he thinks it has given), but the essence of proposals is that there are many good ways to return to the moon, if we apply the existing technology for the most part.

Gateway lunar base: NASA mistake, or the future of space exploration?

Gateway approach, he says, does not simplify the way to the moon NASA. According to Zubrin, it satisfies the desire of Congress and agencies to maintain current income earners (contractors) and is used SLS rocket and machine Orion.

"The real Gateway problem is not that is in lunar orbit, that the project is useless, and that will cost a round sum, or even that it will suck a lot of money for decades, take them from the project, which is really worth doing," he says. "The real problem - it's a way of thinking that is embodied in it. Instead of spending money on the deal, we are looking for things that are going to spend money. "

The booth requisitions

There is also a view that the Gateway actually makes it difficult to return to the moon or Mars mission.

Delta-v determines what can be done in space flight and what is not. To reach low Earth orbit, the first stage of the rocket burns fuel and spends so much of the energy. Then is the second less, and sometimes even the smallest third stage of the rocket pushes the load beyond low-Earth orbit to a destination in deep space.

Since the upper stage is smaller and less powerful, and the engines on the spacecraft even weaker and infirm, it is important to minimize the number of maneuvers needed to achieve the goal.

To get from a low Earth orbit to the lunar surface, necessary delta-v is 6, 1 km / s (need 4, 1 k / s to travel from a low Earth to Low lunar orbit and 2, 0 therefrom to reach the surface ). On the other hand, to get to the DOE Gateway to the alleged halo orbit - and then on the lunar surface - required delta-v 6 and 85 km / s.

In other words, the spacecraft may leave DOEs achieve lunar surface and return to the earth at a total value of delta 9-v 1 km / s. To implement such a mission with Gateway, require delta-v at 10, 65 km / s (17% higher). For this reason, Zubrin calls lunar Gateway "cabin extortion" (for example, when paying for parking or driving on a toll road). It significantly increases the energy consumption needed to reach the Moon (or Mars, if the path to it will pass through the gateway). In such a case, not just NASA will pay for the pass to the Gateway, figuratively speaking, the agency also will pay for itself checkpoint. Rather than spend the next decade on a direct flight to the moon, NASA first build a station near the moon, to complicate themselves descent to the moon (as seen from the point of view of energy costs).

In the aerospace community have some outstanding people who appear in public with such concerns on Gateway. At a meeting of the National Council on space this summer, with the participation of Vice President Mike Pence, a former astronaut Terry Wirths also mentioned these doubts. He also expressed the hope that if Gateway really be built, he can find a useful application.

At the moment, the main purpose of Gateway - is a deception to provide SLS and Orion mission, rather than to develop the technology needed for NASA exploration of the Moon and Mars.

Wirths also believes that the Gateway can be useful if it will be in orbit between the Earth and the Moon, as well as a future space transport will transport people from Earth to Mars and back. This approach allows you to check important concepts, such as high-speed operation and a meeting with transport, which would require NASA to deep space.

Behind the scenes, some members of Congress worried that the Gateway will postpone a mission to Mars indefinitely. In addition, some senior advisors on space in Trump's administration also expressed doubts about the Gateway. It is unclear whether he Trump is fully aware that NASA is not close to the surface of the Moon during his presidency. And because Gateway supports too many people at the moment only prompt intervention by the President will be able to stop the development.

The pressure increases

NASA insists on the Gateway concept with a sense of urgency. This week, leaders of agencies confirmed that they plan to launch the first outpost of the element in 2022, which will provide energy and cravings. The next launch will bring two components: packed ESPRIT, an international partner module with scientific gateway, storage of fuel and air refueling tankers, the additional communication capabilities and external means for placing valuable cargo; and with the utilization of the module, which will include a small docking port, external interfaces and robotic consumables.

Gateway lunar base: NASA mistake, or the future of space exploration?

These components are combined with livelihood opportunities "Orion" crew will be able to maintain within 15 days on Gateway. These components can be sent as early as 2023, while NASA's, seems unlikely to prepare the rocket at this time.

Such a mission would require a more powerful version of the SLS rocket equipped with an entirely new upper stage, which will allow to achieve a halo orbit "Orion" and the new Gateway components. It seems unlikely that such an option SLS will be ready by 2024 or even 2025.

"We are moving aggressively to develop and deploy the Gateway", said the end of August at a meeting of NASA Advisory Council. "That is, we have scheduled a very rapid development. I do not think we should change it. I think we need to set aggressive goals and adjust them to the processes. "

Such statements suggest that although NASA is trying to fit into the timeline, if something goes wrong, they are unlikely to be sustained. And in such programs completely that anything can go wrong. It seems unlikely that the Gateway in its current configuration, with large living and separate gateway module, to be completed by 2030. Or will? Tell us in our chatting in a telegram.