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NASA chooses SpaceX to launch lunar gateway

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NASA chooses SpaceX to launch lunar gateway
An illustration shows NASA's planned lunar Gateway space station with the moon in the background. Image courtesy of NASA

ORLANDO, Fla., Feb. 11 (UPI) -- NASA's Lunar Gateway, a space station that will serve future lunar missions, is on schedule for launch by SpaceX in May 2024.

Gateway is part of NASA's plan for ongoing moon missions and a lunar base. It will be about one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, in orbit around the moon, thousands of miles from the lunar surface.

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NASA hasn't committed to using Gateway for the planned Artemis III crewed mission planned for 2024. That schedule is in doubt, however, because of a lack of funding from Congress.

NASA awarded Elon Musk's company a $331.8 million contract Tuesday to launch the first two pieces of the outpost aboard the company's powerful Falcon Heavy rocket.

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Those components are the human habitat or HALO, and the Power and Propulsion Element, or PPE.

"NASA now has every major piece of the initial configuration of the Gateway on contract," NASA spokeswoman Monica Witt said in an email. "NASA is ensuring that each element will be ready to launch in the targeted time frame."

The launch would occur from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Northrop Grumman is building the HALO module, with a $187 million contract to complete its design phase. French firm Thales Alenia is helping Northrop with the pressurized portion of HALO.

The structure of HALO is modeled after Northrop's Cygnus cargo capsule that flies routinely to the International Space Station.

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HALO would support science investigations, distribute power and supplement the life support systems aboard NASA's Orion capsule, which is to deliver Artemis astronauts to the Gateway.

The PPE module, under contract with Colorado-based Maxar Technologies for $375 million, uses solar electric power for propulsion and will provide power, communications and attitude (level or position) control to Gateway.

Maxar recently completed design reviews with NASA on the PPE, said Turner Brinton, director of public relations at Maxar.

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NASA decided last year to connect the PPE and HALO on the ground and launch the two modules together, according to Brinton.

"This reduces Gateway's risk profile and increases its cost-effectiveness," he said.

Although it will have life support, Gateway's systems only will support and complement Orion's until a future module, International Habitat arrives -- scheduled for 2026.

I-HAB will provide the primary carbon dioxide removal capability, water and waste system management at the lunar outpost, Witt said.

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Moghbeli poses for a portrait in the Systems Engineering Simulator for the International Space Station and advanced spaceflight programs at the Johnson Space Center on July 9, 2019. She will train for the moon mission. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA

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