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Johnson Now Leading the (Gate)way Forward to the Moon

February 25, 2019

NASA is going forward to the Moon. With our Orion and Space Launch System programs moving full steam ahead and our commercial partnerships on the International Space Station enabling us to use resources to push further, our sights are set on establishing a Gateway, an outpost near the Moon that will allow astronauts to delve into the mysteries of the Moon and perfect operations for missions deep into our solar system. 

The Gateway is no longer a lofty goal. A team spanning multiple NASA centers is already developing the outpost’s capabilities, lining up groups to execute plans and seeking input from industry to ensure the space marketplace already thriving in low-Earth orbit doesn’t leave the Moon out in the cold. With the conclusion of a Formulation Sync Review (FSR) for the Gateway in mid-February, NASA’s Johnson Space Center now is leading the day-to-day development of the outpost.  

Artist's concept of Gateway, NASA's next orbital outpost. Image Credit: NASA

At the helm of the Gateway Program Office is Dan Hartman, the former deputy manager of the Space Station Program. He brings a depth of knowledge about developing and operating an orbital outpost and working with both international and commercial partners. Lara Kearney, who most recently served as the manager of the Crew and Service Module Office within the Orion Program, will serve as the deputy manager for the program. She brings experience with spacecraft design and production tailored for deep space and an understanding of the agency’s systems already in development that will help deliver crew and payloads to the new outpost.  

“We’re moving quickly to establish our team and processes to manage the formulation of the Gateway Program while defining our baseline and protecting for long-lead procurements,” Hartman said. “Since the start of the Gateway as a concept, JSC has played a central role in NASA’s work to develop the spaceport, and we will build upon our expertise at this and other centers, together with our international partners, in planning and completing complicated human spaceflight missions to bring the Gateway to fruition. I look forward to working with this immensely talented team.” 

The FSR demonstrated that the design concept for the Gateway, the requirements for the spacecraft, the schedule for the system’s development and its costs meet the mission needs defined by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. 

An agencywide team, along with NASA’s international partners, created extensive products for the FSR.  

“An incredible amount of work went into this,” said Deb Ludban, systems engineering and integration deputy lead for the Gateway, who was instrumental in making the FSR happen. “The requirements set included the spacecraft’s concept of operations and architecture, mission design, system specifications, design and construction standards, interface requirements approach, safety and mission assurance requirements, and human rating.” 

In addition to formally transferring management of the Gateway from Headquarters to Johnson, in the last several months NASA has made significant progress spurring commercial Moon-related activities.   

In November, nine U.S. companies were selected to be eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts—one of the first steps toward long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, eventually, Mars. These companies will be able to bid on delivering science and technology payloads for NASA, including payload integration and operations, launching from Earth and landing on the surface of the Moon. NASA expects to be one of many customers that will use these commercial landing services. Lunar payloads could fly on these contracted missions as early as this year.

Late last year, NASA also announced plans to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface in 2028. In February, a solicitation was issued to American companies to study the best approach for landing astronauts on the Moon, and to start the development as quickly as possible with current and future anticipated technologies.  

The agency plans on sending humans to the Moon is using a system of three separate elements that will provide transfer, landing and safe return. A key aspect of this proposed approach is to use the Gateway to support roundtrip journeys to and from the lunar surface. 

Gateway development is moving fast … but there’s still time to check out our primer for more information on how we’ll assemble it and provide opportunity for our partners. 

Artist's concept of a human landing system and its crew on the lunar surface with Earth near the horizon. Image Credit: NASA

Rachel Kraft

NASA's Johnson Space Center