Photo Credit: NASA
NASA is planning to establish a crewed spaceport near the Moon that could serve as a gateway to the lunar surface and deep space destinations including Mars.
The area of space near the Moon offers a true deep space environment to gain experience for human missions that push farther into the solar system, access the lunar surface for robotic missions but with the ability to return to Earth if needed in days rather than weeks or months, NASA said.
The period of exploration in the vicinity of the Moon will begin with the first integrated mission of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft, it said.
The agency is looking to build a crew tended spaceport in lunar orbit within the first few missions that would serve as a gateway to deep space and the lunar surface.
This deep space gateway would have a power bus, a small habitat to extend crew time, docking capability, an airlock, and serviced by logistics modules to enable research.
The propulsion system on the gateway mainly uses high power electric propulsion for station keeping and the ability to transfer among a family of orbits in the lunar vicinity.
The three primary elements of the gateway, the power and propulsion bus and habitat module, and a small logistics module(s), would take advantage of the cargo capacity of SLS and crewed deep space capability of Orion.
An airlock can further augment the capabilities of the gateway and can fly on a subsequent exploration mission.
"The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the Moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system," said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA.
The second phase of missions will confirm that the agency's capabilities built for humans can perform long duration missions beyond the Moon.
For those destinations farther into the solar system, including Mars, NASA envisions a deep space transport spacecraft.
This spacecraft would be a reusable vehicle that uses electric and chemical propulsion and would be specifically designed for crewed missions to destinations such as Mars.
The transport would take crew out to their destination, return them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again.