Building a strategic capability for advancing and sustaining human space exploration in the vicinity of the Moon will require the best from NASA, interested international partners, and U.S. industry. As NASA continues formulating the deep space gateway concept, the agency signed a joint statement with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.
This joint statement reflects the common vision for human exploration that NASA and Roscosmos share. Both agencies, as well as other International Space Station partners, see the gateway as a strategic component of human space exploration architecture that warrants additional study. NASA has already engaged industry partners in gateway concept studies. Roscosmos and other space station partner agencies are preparing to do the same.
"While the deep space gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space as the next step for advancing human space exploration," said Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Statements such as this one signed with Roscosmos show the gateway concept as an enabler to the kind of exploration architecture that is affordable and sustainable."
NASA plans to expand human presence into the solar system starting in the vicinity of the Moon using its new deep space exploration transportation systems, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. This plan challenges our current capabilities in human spaceflight and will benefit from engagement by multiple countries and U.S. industry.
Studies of the gateway concept will provide technical information to inform future decisions about potential collaborations. These domestic and international studies are being used to shape the capabilities and partnering options for implementing the deep space gateway.
The space station partners are working to identify common exploration objectives and possible missions for the 2020s, including the gateway concept. A key element of their study is to ensure that future deep space exploration missions take full advantage of technology development and demonstration enabled by the International Space Station, as well as lessons learned from its assembly and operations.
During the same time period and in parallel, NASA has been engaging U.S. industry to evaluate habitation concepts for the gateway and for the deep space transport that would be needed for Mars exploration. NASA has competitively awarded a series of study and risk reduction contracts under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement to advance habitation concepts, technologies, and prototypes of the required capabilities needed for deep space missions. The most recent awards included six U.S. companies; Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Nanoracks. Five of the six firms were selected to develop full-sized ground-based engineering prototypes of habitation systems, expected to be complete in 2018. NASA has also solicited industry proposals for studies on concept development of a power and propulsion element, which would be the first piece of a gateway architecture.