Deep Space Gateway: U.S. & Russia Plan Joint Moon Exploration

The U.S. and Russia will collaborate on an ambitious plan to construct a space station in lunar orbit and a human colony on the Moon.

Scientific exploration and discovery know no borders and can unite people in the search for truth. Beginning with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, the fiercely competitive space race between the United States and Russia has led to some remarkable, yet crucial, cooperation. Now, the two arch-superpowers will collaborate on an ambitious plan to construct a space station in lunar orbit and a human colony on the Moon.

The Deep Space Gateway

In September 2017, the United States and Russia signed a joint statement at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia. The resolution promises cooperation between NASA and the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, in the construction of the Deep Space Gateway. The project, described by NASA as a “gateway to deep space and the lunar surface,” involves the multi-stage construction of a manned spaceport in lunar orbit. Such an endeavor will serve as a stepping stone to human colonization of the Moon and exploration of the solar system.  

The Deep Space Gateway aims to serve as a stepping-stone to deep-space human exploration; constructing a station orbiting the Moon will enable astronauts to experience extended stays in space far from Earth. In 2015, NASA completed the design for its Space Launch System, which is scheduled for delivery in 2018.

The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built, and its purpose is to carry human explorers and scientific equipment as far as Mars. Standing at a towering 322 feet, the first stage of the SLS, called Exploration Mission-1, will generate an impressive 8.8 million pounds of thrust (the equivalent of 160,000 Corvette engines) upon liftoff, enabling it to carry more than three times the amount of mass than the space shuttle. Sitting atop the SLS will be the Orion spacecraft, which is the safest and most advanced manned spacecraft ever built. Initially test-launched in 2014, Orion will accompany EM-1 in a trip around the moon to test safety and critical systems, as well as return and reentry to Earth. The second SLS mission, Exploration Mission-2, will carry four astronauts past the moon.

Supplementing the American designing of the SLS and Orion will be the Russian-built Angara-5 rocket, which is intended to replace the country’s 60-year-old Proton rocket program. The Angara-5 will deliver the crucial Russian-designed docking systems to the DSG. The two nations will also cooperatively plan manned missions to the lunar surface and eventually to Mars.

Looking Toward The Future

To send humans to Mars by 2030, NASA and Roscosmos, as well as the European Space Agency and at least five other countries, plan to have astronauts living in lunar orbit by the 2020s. Having a space station in lunar orbit will save fuel and time for future manned missions to Mars and destinations into the outer solar system.

At the International Astronomical Conference, Australia and the United Arab Emirates announced plans to develop their own space programs. Australia’s involvement in space began in 1967 — one of the first nations in the world to launch a satellite. In fact, the first TV images of Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk were received and broadcast by a NASA tracking station in Australia. Now, the country plans to invest in its own space program, which will create an estimated 11,700 jobs and generate $4.17 billion in economic growth.

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