May 7, 2019

Boeing's lunar gateway concept is open for testing

Miriam Kramer, author of Space

Boeing's lunar gateway demonstrator. Photo: Boeing

Boeing wants to take lessons learned from the International Space Station (ISS) to meet NASA's ambitious 2024 deadline to get humans back to the moon.

Driving the news: The longtime NASA contractor just finished up construction of a full-scale, ground-based model of its prototype for the space agency's lunar gateway. NASA will now start running the prototype through a series of tests.

  • The model — located in Huntsville, Alabama — includes habitation and airlock modules based on Boeing's work developing the ISS.
  • "We have a lot of cool stuff in there," David Pederson, Boeing's test team lead engineer for the gateway, said during a press briefing last week.
  • The demonstrator includes an exercise area with a window, a galley with working water and science experiment boxes.

Details: NASA hopes to launch a lunar gateway as an orbiting base of operations from which astronauts could launch to the lunar surface.

  • Boeing is confident its gateway concept, if selected, would be ready to launch ahead of a 2024 landing.
  • According to Boeing, the modules are designed to launch separately, with the power and propulsion module heading to lunar orbit in 2022.
  • The habitation module would launch one year later.
  • The modules are designed to snap together with little assembly required.

But, but, but: Boeing isn't the only company working on a lunar gateway concept.

  • Lockheed Martin has finished its demonstrator. Northrop Grumman, Sierra Nevada Corp. and Bigelow Aerospace are still working toward turning their models over to NASA for testing.
  • As of March, the space agency says it plans to incorporate the best elements of the demonstrators into the final product, rather than going with one design.

Be smart: NASA's 2024 deadline is extremely ambitious and will likely take a large influx of funding provided by Congress. However, it's unclear whether the Trump administration has enough support to make that lunar mission a reality.

  • The agency was expected to submit its updated budget proposal in mid-April, but that deadline came and went with no word on how much NASA will need to get the job done.
  • In theory, NASA could still aim for the moon without including a gateway in its plans.

Go deeper: All eyes on NASA's commercial crew

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