NASA, Roscosmos Sign Agreement on Deep Space Exploration

Boeing Deep Space Gateway (Credit: Boeing)

ADELAIDE, Australia (NASA PR) — Building a strategic capability for advancing and sustaining human space exploration in the vicinity of the Moon will require the best from NASA, interested international partners, and U.S. industry. As NASA continues formulating the deep space gateway┬áconcept, the agency signed a joint statement with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, on Wednesday, Sept. 27 at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

This joint statement reflects the common vision for human exploration that NASA and Roscosmos share. Both agencies, as well as other International Space Station partners, see the gateway as a strategic component of human space exploration architecture that warrants additional study. NASA has already engaged industry partners in gateway concept studies. Roscosmos and other space station partner agencies are 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.”

NASA plans to expand human presence into the solar system starting in the vicinity of the Moon using its new deep space exploration transportation systems, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. This plan challenges our current capabilities in human spaceflight and will benefit from engagement by multiple countries and U.S. industry.

Studies of the gateway concept will provide technical information to inform future decisions about potential collaborations. These domestic and international studies are being used to shape the capabilities and partnering options for implementing the deep space gateway.

The space station partners are working to identify common exploration objectives and possible missions for the 2020s, including the gateway concept. A key element of their study is to ensure that future deep space exploration missions take full advantage of technology development and demonstration enabled by the International Space Station, as well as lessons learned from its assembly and operations.

During the same time period and in parallel, NASA has been engaging U.S. industry to evaluate habitation concepts for the gateway and for the deep space transport that would be needed for Mars exploration.

NASA has competitively awarded a series of study and risk reduction contracts under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement to advance habitation concepts, technologies, and prototypes of the required capabilities needed for deep space missions.

The most recent awards included six U.S. companies: Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Nanoracks. Five of the six firms were selected to develop full-sized ground-based engineering prototypes of habitation systems, expected to be complete in 2018. NASA has also solicited industry proposals for studies on concept development of a power and propulsion element, which would be the first piece of a gateway architecture.

  • Vladislaw

    Any word on what Congress thinks about funding this concept yet?

  • Douglas Messier

    Not exactly. But, there’s some anecdotal evidence:

    The Administration canceled the asteroid mission that Congress never funded. Congress has also been aware of what NASA has been doing with Next-STEP, which is focused on an interim step in the vicinity of the moon. There have been no objections to that program that I know of. At least not publicly.

    I think Congress understands that as cool as a Mars mission would be, there’s insufficient support for the expenditures needed to fund it. SLS and Orion were also designed with moon trips in mind, so not a lot of changes would be required to current policy. Both the Administration and Congress seem firm in supporting both programs no matter the cost.

    There also seems to be a meeting of the minds in Congress, the White House and the nominee to lead NASA to work closely with the private sector on commercializing the next step beyond LEO. A number of companies are eying the moon for that.

    I would expect the Administration to make some sort of proposal in the next budget round (probably February) relating to the moon. The devil is in the details as to exactly what that would be, how much money would be needed, and what funding levels Congress would propose in response to Trump’s budget plan.

  • Valerij Gilinskij

    You wrote:
    “There also seems to be a meeting of the minds in Congress, the White House and the nominee to lead NASA to work closely with the private sector on commercializing the next step beyond LEO. A number of companies are eying the moon for that.”

    But NASA does not have enough money to return to the moon, if the Orion program continues with the Senate Launch System, and the ISS. Especially there is no money for Deep Space Transport …

  • Nickolai

    I’m really glad to see this. As someone with both Russian and American upbringing, I think great things can be accomplished when our nations work together, and I’m very heartened to see that the ISS cooperation will continue.

  • The fact there’s been no Barney Frank-esque “no Mars mission” for this (even when there really wasn’t one to begin with) leads me to think that Congress’ silence is tacit approval of the plan, along the lines of “hey, they’re doing space ‘stuff’, they aren’t breaking the bank and money is being spent in the right districts, no complaints from us.”

    I’m perfectly fine with this plan. It builds on what NASA and the commercial companies know, and the project is similar enough to recent ISS/Shuttle experience that we can actually be able to budget for it properly. (Even if the official numbers don’t make sense, if NASA has pennies in the bank to pay for it, then it doesn’t matter.)

    While having a Congressional/Presidential mandate has always been the Holy Grail, I think silent/apolitical approval would be even better!

  • Jacob Samorodin

    What? No plans to put fresh sets of boot-prints in lunar dust, yet?…There are only three justifications I can think of for this project, if it goes through,
    1) International cooperation. (rather lame)
    2) Adding an inflatable radio telescope to the lunar-orbiting assembly to take advantage of the absence of radio interference when orbiting over the farside of the Moon. (I would warm to the idea, but unmanned LLO platforms could do just as well.)
    3) To pave the way for crews to return to the lunar surface, possibly with the addition of a ‘garage’ integrated to the lunar orbiting assemblage to house a lunar lander when it’s not in use. If i’m still alive in 2030, I may see it happen.

  • Emmet Ford

    Let ESA lead on that. They want a lunar village. Let’s see ’em put some skin in the game.

  • passinglurker

    Don’t forget radiation studies since this is outside the magnetosphere. Knowing how the habitat structure is permiated will help future habs and vehicles.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    My bet is they go for it. We need some positive ties with Russia. It’s not like they have 200 motorized rifle divisions poised to invade allied territory anymore. I think the lesson from the 90’s and ISS is keep the Russians in the loop, but don’t put them in the critical path. You could argue that th lessons post 2011 is that the Russians can be very reliable provided you show up with cash in hand.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Maybe we they will keep with tradition and force us to put DSG in a useless orbit.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Think NASA, ESA & Roscosmos are hoping someone else will develop a cheap Lunar Cargo lander. Otherwise all they can do is flybys & orbital missions.

    Really don’r see any of the government players have the cash and/or resources to developed a robust Lunar cargo lander (25+ metric ton payload) in the next 15 years.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…and force us to put DSG in a useless orbit” ….like round the Moon, you mean.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    Lets hope either XEUS from ULA or Blue_Moon actually makes it to the lunar surface. Then a capsule designer may have the parts, such as doors and life support, to make a cabin.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Bit sad to see the term ‘Deep Space Exploration’ used to describe activities that don’t make it outside a Lunar orbit. I mean the Apollo missions made it to the surface of the Moon and back in the 1960’s / ’70’s. Anyway nothing’s funded. No SLS or Orion missions both vehicles of which are single use and insanely expensive.
    When I see funded missions then I’ll believe something is actually going to happen.
    Until then, I’ll keep cheering for Musk and Bezos who both have visions, provide leadership and put their money into those.
    Nothing to cheer about here IMO.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The current version of the Marsten Xeus and the paper Blue Origin Blue Moon are both small Lunar landers capable of placing about 5 tonnes of payload on the surface of the Moon. In about the same class as the old Lunar Exclusion Module. Good only for a flags & footprints sortie mission to the Moon.

    In the end of the day. There is only one entity that might field a robust Lunar Cargo lander in the next 15 years. And it is not Marsten/ULA or Blue Origin!

  • Jeff2Space

    If they can both get funding. No bucks, no Buck Rogers.

  • Jeff2Space

    Orbiting, but not setting foot on, the moon is “weak sauce”. Some in the administration will not be impressed. We’ll see if enough people are impressed by this to support the billions of dollars in funding that this will require.

  • windbourne

    Actually, in terms of the moon, you should be cheering Bigelow and Bezo. They are the 2 really pushing this.
    Musk is jumping on, because he has come to realize that BFR really can not be a TRUE mars-only rocket. It NEEDS to be able to launch monthly, or more, and that pretty much means he needs the moon with multiple govs jumping for joy to get onto a lunar base.
    That is also why he is funding communications and robotics to there.

  • windbourne

    totally agree.
    Putin is NOT forever.
    Hopefully, the next guy will put Russia first, as opposed to seeking power.

  • windbourne

    esp when we have CONgress throwing money away on the SLS.
    Hopefully, once we have both FH and NG up and running, SLS will be KILLED.

  • windbourne

    I have to differ with you.
    ULA actually IS capable and has the money. The problem is, that bruno is just fine with sending the profits up to Boeing/L-Mart instead of re-investing into Space. Boeing/L-Mart/ULA would like things to remain like it has been since Nixon, which is CONgress sending them LOADS of PROFITS.

    And BO will almost certainly create a lunar lander since NG and NS will be regular landers here. In fact, I would guess that NG, or possibly NG’s second stage, will become a lunar lander. The reason is that NG first stage has capability to land a fair amount of cargo and then take off. Likewise, with the second stage, it can land cargo, but nearly empty of fuel, and then pick up LH2/LOX from lunar surface.

    I will be curious to see if SX decides to jump in on this. If so, I think that we will hear about it tomorrow.

  • windbourne

    we ALL need to put skin in this.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    5 tonnes of payload is adequate. Four berth touring caravan weigh 1.5-2 tonnes. Since the mass of the motors and propellant are booked to the XEUS only the cabin’s mass forms the payload. The cabin is taking on the role of the Accent Stage of the LEM. Cabin mass includes doors, walls, windows, electronics, life support, furniture, space suits, crew, tools, food, water, air and samples.

    Building a lunar habitat out of 5 tonne modules should be possible. 6 * 5 = 30 tonnes. Plus a crane, a rover and solar panels. Two modules can provide life support to the other modules.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    First Tory Bruno have no say in how revenue is allocated for at ULA. That is up to the ULA board (i.e. Boeing & LockMart).

    Have no doubt ULA is capable of developing a Moon lander. However are they strapped for funds. So much so they can only developed the Vulcan in piecemeal fashion.

    Huh. The New Glenn 1st stage is never going to get about 120 km altitude from Earth. It is a winged sub-orbital booster. We will have to see more New Glenn 2nd specifications to discuss it suitability as a Lunar lander.

    The current Blue Moon Lunar delivery vehicle design from Blue Origin is capable of about 5 m tonnes of payload to the Moon.

    Of course SpaceX will offer some sort of delivery service to the Cis-Lunar region. They are not going to turn down money for their Martian project. We will find out at about 12:30 AM EDT on Friday.

    Again, as I see it. Only one entity can field a 25+ metric ton payload Lunar lander in the next 15 years.

    P.S. SpaceX is hosting a webcast of the IAC session on their website. Probably with better bandwidth than the official IAC webcast. Weblink below.

  • windbourne

    BTW, I think that you mean 12:30 am EDT on SAT.
    For the rest of America, it will be Fri. night.

  • Emmet Ford

    Sure, if the US doesn’t pony up then it doesn’t happen. But that should not mean that we foot 85 percent of the bill.

    ESA wants to get to the lunar surface, so ESA should be looking at how to make a lander, an ascent vehicle, and a lunar habitat happen.

    Europe is no longer rebuilding from WWII. Their economy and their population is larger than ours. We don’t have to carry them on our back. We need partners, not vassals or protoges. No need to spot them a lunar village for the price of a service module.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Nope. The IAC session is on Friday from 2 PM to 3 PM Australian Central Standard time (04h30 to 05h30 UTC )
    So it will be late Thursday night and early Friday morning for North America,
    The weblink goes live in 5 hours at around midnight EDT.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    5 tonnes payload is adequate for a short flag & footprints mission for maybe a crew of 2. Unless you don’t plan on deploying a rover & using EVA suits and just stay in the lander,

    Then there is the issue of how much payload mass is required to stay overnight on the Moon. You need power for 14 Earth days to maintain life support and keeping external equipment warm during the Lunar night.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The 5 tonne rover goes up on a different flight.

  • windbourne

    wow. Thank you.
    I would have missed this.

  • BeanCounterFromDownUnder

    Fair enough. Wasn’t aware Bezos was into a Moon base as such. Musk is in the transportation business wherever it happens so it makes sense that he’d jump on board something like this BUT no funding mentioned yet. Same problem as Musk Mars.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Well after the Musk presentation at the 2017 IAC. We will ave a robust Lunar cargo lander by the mid 2020s if SpaceX is on schedule. Which is not likely from their flight history. They will mostly be a few years behind schedule. So NASA, ESA, Roscosmos, JAXA and whoever else will just have to pay for the ride to the Moon and outwards.