Featured Image Source: NASA
NASA announced today, March 27, it selected SpaceX as the first cargo carrier to the future Lunar Gateway station which will be in orbit around the moon. The rocket company's most powerful rocket, Falcon Heavy, will be tasked to launch a new spacecraft called 'Dragon XL' to the lunar station under the agency's Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) contract. NASA revealed a render of SpaceX's new Dragon XL spacecraft, that will be capable of carrying more than 5-metric-tons to the moon's orbit (pictured above). Dragon XL will take vital cargo, supplies and equipment that would be needed at the Lunar Gateway station in order to maintain a human presence on the moon.
"SpaceX will launch a variant of Dragon, optimized to carry more than 5 metric tons of cargo to Gateway in lunar orbit."
SpaceX will launch a variant of Dragon, optimized to carry more than 5 metric tons of cargo to Gateway in lunar orbit https://t.co/NdJaFU1xSD— SpaceX (@SpaceX) March 27, 2020
The construction of the Lunar Gateway station is a stepping stone in NASA's Artemis Program, which aims to take the first woman and the next man to the moon's surface in the year 2024. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement today:
"This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably. The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars."
When the Lunar Gateway is built it will become a spaceship station, a temporary home and office for astronauts who travel to explore the lunar surface. It will be sort of like the International Space Station but much smaller, and orbiting around the moon located about 250,000 miles away from Earth -that's equivalent to a five day trip. Lunar Gateway will feature rooms and laboratories to conduct scientific experiments while orbiting the moon. The station will feature several docking ports where the Dragon XL spacecraft is expected to attach alongside crafts from other NASA partnerships.
"We’re making significant progress moving from our concept of the Gateway to reality,” said Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Bringing a logistics provider onboard ensures we can transport all the critical supplies we need for the Gateway and on the lunar surface to do research and technology demonstrations in space that we can’t do anywhere else. We also anticipate performing a variety of research on and within the logistics module." NASA says SpaceX's Dragon XL will conduct a series of missions in which the craft will stay docked the Gateway station for 6 to 12 months at a time. The rocket company and the agency agreed on a fixed-price Gateway Logistics Services contract. Regarding the partnership, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell stated:
"Returning to the Moon and supporting future space exploration requires affordable delivery of significant amounts of cargo. Through our partnership with NASA, SpaceX has been delivering scientific research and critical supplies to the International Space Station since 2012, and we are honored to continue the work beyond Earth’s orbit and carry Artemis cargo to Gateway."
NASA's Artemis program's long-term goal is to build a sustainable U.S. base on the lunar surface. The mission will prepare astronauts to travel on long-duration voyages to Mars. They aspire to gain experience and knowledge from living on and around the moon before heading to the Red Planet. The agency says "Gateway will play a vital role in this process."