Monday, November 12, 2012

A Glimpse at a Gateway

A NASA proposal would station a deep-space human outpost at the L-2 Lagrangian Point. Image source: Wikipedia.

I wrote on Saturday about a November 7 article reporting that NASA is close to announcing a next-generation program for constructing on outpost at a Lagrangian point 38,000 miles beyond the Moon.

Space Politics publisher Jeff Foust posted today on its sibling site The Space Review an article titled, “A Glimpse at a Gateway.” The core of the article reports on a presentation last weekend by NASA physicist Harold White at the SpaceVision 2012 conference in Buffalo.

(Dr. White drew attention last year with his presentation of how a Star Trek warp drive is theoretically possible.)

White is the Advanced Propulsion Theme Lead for a project at Johnson Space Center called the Gateway Exploration Architecture. His Buffalo presentation, which Foust attended, presented new details about possible L2 missions.

The architecture starts in 2019 with the launch of the core spacecraft—a generic service module plus a docking node similar to those on the US segment of the International Space Station—on a Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket to the Earth-Moon L2 point. “Then we would have a cadence of missions, about once every year,” White said, “increasing the mission duration and, in some cases, also increasing the capability of the platform by bringing up additional modules.”

The initial crewed mission would fly to the platform at L2 on an Orion spacecraft launched by an SLS. That mission would last about 30 days, in order to gain experience on operations there. Before departing, the platform would transfer from the L2 to the L1 point on the other side of the Moon. After the crew left, the station would then move into a “near rectilinear orbit”, a stretched version of the halo orbits used to stationkeep around Lagrange points that, in this case, gives long dwell times over the lunar poles.

That new orbit would be maintained for the second crewed mission in order to support telerobotic operations on the lunar surface. On that second mission, White said, a robotic spacecraft would collect lunar samples and transport them to the platform for return to Earth along with the crew.

Foust notes that White warned this is an early proposal that may change significantly. The slide-show presentation was marked, “Pre-Decisional Study Material.”

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