Military Embedded Systems

NASA presses forward with plans for cislunar human outpost


March 13, 2017

Lisa Daigle

Assistant Managing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

GREENBELT, Md. In an address at the recent American Astronautical Society Goddard Memorial Symposium, Bill Gerstenmaier -- NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations -- told attendees that NASA is moving forward with plans for a cislunar ?gateway? outpost for future human missions, with decisions about how to develop it expected in the coming months. Gerstenmaier said that his agency is studying concepts for launching the first elements of the proposed outpost as secondary payloads on early flights of the Space Launch System (SLS).

The outpost -- with the term "cislunar" meaning "in the space between the earth and the moon" -- will be a collection of habitation, cargo, and other modules that would be able to support crews working in lunar orbit or elsewhere in cislunar space for extended periods. Orion spacecraft would ferry astronauts to and from the outpost, where they would perform experiments and test equipment needed to support NASA’s long-term plans for human missions to Mars in the 2030s.

One question mark in these plans is the ongoing study of putting a crew on the first SLS/Orion mission, EM-1, which is currently scheduled to launch in late 2018 without a crew. (Read more about the Orion spacecraft here.)  Gerstenmaier, following his conference presentation, said that putting a crew on EM-1 could open up new possibilities for EM-2 and later missions: “It makes EM-2 be more of an aggressive mission, and we can do more with the cargo that’s behind the Orion capsule on that flight.”

In addition, Gerstenmaier said that development of the cislunar outpost could start with the second and third SLS missions, EM-2 and -3, which will be the first flights of the SLS to use the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage (EUS); these versions will be designed to carry secondary payloads weighing up to several thousand kilograms within the rockets’ Universal Stage Adapter, an area between the EUS and Orion spacecraft.



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