Explore Gateway: The first space station to orbit the Moon

This first-of-its-kind structure will play a crucial role in NASA's Artemis missions and act as a stopover for future missions in deep space.
By | Published: June 28, 2024

NASA has just unveiled a new 3D animation that showcases the exterior of the upcoming Gateway Space Station.

Gateway is designed to serve as a crucial stopover for longer space missions. Set to launch its first modules in 2025, Gateway will be the first space station to orbit the Moon. The feat is a collaboration among NASA, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC).

Building a permanent settlement that orbits the Moon will allow astronauts access to the lunar surface and opportunities for more extended missions, according to NASA. To this end, Gateway will have multiple docking ports for spacecraft, areas to live and work, and labs for scientific experiments.

Building a lunar outpost

To get Gateway into lunar orbit, it will be sent in pieces, similar to how the International Space Station (ISS) was placed into low Earth orbit. Two of Gateway’s modules, the Power and Propulsion Equipment (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), will travel to the Moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket. The pieces will take about one year to reach their destination orbit, which will take the station around the Moon once a week and provide ready access to the lunar south pole.

During this time, the modules will collect data on both solar and cosmic radiation in the lunar environment, which will have long-term impacts on astronauts and their equipment. Because it is in lunar orbit, Gateway will be exposed to more radiation than the ISS, as the ISS is protected from much of this radiation by Earth’s magnetosphere.

Credit: NASA

Once PPE and HALO are in orbit, another piece will travel with the Artemis IV crew: The Lunar International Habitat (I-Hab) will provide a place for astronauts on the station to live during their stay.

Gateway will also sport a robotic arm called Canadarm3. The device will assist astronauts during spacewalks and provide a way to move Gateway modules, repair the station as needed, and snag visiting spacecraft.

Fully assembled, Gateway will be smaller than the ISS at 1/5 the Earth-orbiting station’s size. Gateway will measure about 141 feet (43 meters) by 62 feet (19 m) and weigh in at about 138,900 pounds (63,000 kilograms). At its fastest, Gateway will orbit the Moon at nearly 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) per second. Early on, the station will have enough space to accommodate four astronauts at a time.

Unlike the ISS, Gateway will not be visible from Earth because it will be about 1,000 times farther from our planet. Astronaut crews will hitch a ride to Gateway on NASA’s Orion spacecraft.

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