The US And Russia To Build A Moon-Orbiting Space Station Together
The US and Russia are going to team up for a space station near the Moon that will provide a starting point for future deep space exploration. Forbes reports in its article The US And Russia Agree To Build A Moon-Orbiting Space Station Together that NASA and Roscosmos, the respective space agencies, said they had signed an agreement on the “deep space gateway”, which for now is still in the planning stages.
The idea of the deep space gateway is to provide a place where astronauts can test the systems needed to go into deep space, including trips to Mars. It will also be a place where astronauts can experience extended time in space, but still be within a few days of planet Earth.
After that, a lunar base could provide a staging area for longer missions. For example, NASA or Roscosmos could send up the supplies needed for long missions in stages and store them at the station, reducing the cost and complexity of blasting off large weights from Earth. This idea of space travel is particularly relevant if and when reusable rockets become the norm.
NASA has previously said that its first exploration around the Moon will happen on the first mission of the Space Launch System rocket and the Orion Spacecraft. The agency is hoping to then have a flight per year to the Moon after the second mission is completed.
The agency is already working on concept studies for a lunar base with industry partners and Roscosmos is 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."
Getting an ambitious project like this one off the ground will require engagement from multiple countries and companies, the agency added. Talks are already ongoing with European, Japanese and Canadian space agencies as well, which have all worked with NASA and Roscosmos on the International Space Station (ISS).
Roscosmos and NASA are working on drawing up common exploration objectives and possible missions that will kick off in the 2020s and plan to build on their experience of operating the ISS together.
Russia has previously talked about plans to send its cosmonauts to the surface of the Moon and build a base there, as well as building another Earth-orbiting station to follow the ISS. But it’s unlikely that the country can manage such ambitious goals alone. Right now, NASA uses Russian rockets to fly to the ISS and Russia may well look at this agreement as an opportunity to hitch a ride on NASA’s new rockets to the Moon.
Both Russia and the US have also expressed interest in getting to Mars within the next 20 years or so and it’s likely that the countries will need to cooperate with each other and further partners to make that happen.