On Dec 11th, 2017 the White House enacted Space Policy Directive 1. The basic idea of the directive was to go back to the moon and build some more permanent structures that help enable exploration and experimentation. NASA seems to be taking this directive as an opportunity to learn how to send and sustain human beings on Mars. This policy comes from a recommendation from the new National Space Council, which the President revived in July of 2017 and is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. The policy also ends NASA’s effort to put a human being on an asteroid.
The general plan is illustrated in the infographic below.
But what progress was made in 2018? Are we any closer? Well, the short answer is yes a fair amount of progress was made in the past year but we still have a long way to go. For now, I would like to talk about three parts of this plan.
The first part is the Commercial Lunar Payload Service Contracts. This last year NASA approved nine companies to bid on these contracts. These companies will be putting forth bids to build crafts that deliver scientific and technology payloads to the lunar surface. Presumably, these methods will also be used to send similar payloads to Mars in the future. These contracts are indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contracts and have a combined value of $2.6 billion over the next 10 years. These payloads could fly as early as 2019 so look for more news on this in the coming year.
The second part is called Gateway and the idea is to make a moon orbiting spacecraft that supports human and robot missions on the moon. This past year NASA has been issuing requests for ideas from US companies as to how Gateway will be used and what it will be able to do. This includes its design, construction, supply, payload and transportation capabilities to the lunar surface, as well as its propulsion. They are also looking into making a US habitat module for Gateway. It seems like this project is still deep in the planning stages so let’s keep an eye out for a solid plan for its usage in the coming year.
The third part is NASA’s Space Launch System Rocket, also known as SLS, and the Orion spacecraft. These two will be the transportation system that will take payloads to Gateway and help in its construction. This project seems to have made some serious progress over the last year. Engineers at the Kennedy Space Center, NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, and the European Space Agency have all been working on components for the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft. Orion’s parachute system has been tested and its launch abort system is in test preparation. Several parts for the SLS are in production or have been completed. Over the next year, we should be hearing a lot about these two.
To learn more please visit our friends at NASA.