A Look at NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Plans


Last month NASA officials gave a series of presentations about the space agency’s deep-space exploration plans to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee. I have excerpted slides from those presentations to provide an overview of what the space agency is planning.
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Thales Alenia Space Partners with NextSTEP-2 Companies

Habitat in lunar orbit. (Credit: Orbital ATK)

ROME, 14 December 2017 (Thales Alenia Space PR) — Thales Alenia Space has signed three contracts in the frame of Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) activities with Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Orbital–ATK, to develop capabilities that can meet NASA human space exploration objectives while also supporting industry commercialization plans.

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Support for Deep Space Gateway Grows in Japan

Boeing’s proposed Deep Space Gateway (Credit: Boeing)

Although the U.S. Congress has not given approval for NASA’s proposed Deep Space Gateway, support for the project appears to be building in Japan as a follow-on to the nation’s partnership in the  International Space Station.

Japan hopes to join the U.S. project to construct a spaceport in lunar orbit in the latter half of the 2020s, in an effort to realize a lunar surface exploration mission by a Japanese astronaut. The government plans to submit a draft report on the project to a meeting of a governmental panel of space policy experts.

By joining an international space probe, the nation is expected to obtain scientific results, and also boost its competitiveness in the space industry and assert Japan’s leadership in the field of space utilization, the sources said….

Tokyo has decided it is a realistic goal to send astronauts for the first time to the lunar surface for exploration activities, by joining the U.S. project and contributing its expertise in such areas as the docking of the space station and supply ship. Japan will draw on its experience of close cooperation with the United States regarding ISS operations.

Any serious movement toward the Deep Space Gateway in the United States will probably have to wait until after the Senate approves an administrator to lead NASA. The Trump’s Administration’s choice, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, had a contentious confirmation hearing earlier this month before the Senate Commerce Committee.

The fate of Bridenstine’s nomination is uncertain in the full Senate with many Democrats and at least one Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), opposing his confirmation. Republicans hold a narrow 52-48 advantage in the upper chamber.

Any funding proposal for the Deep Space Gateway would be included in the fiscal year 2019 budget, which the administration would likely release in February.

NASA’s Top Management Challenges: Deep Space Exploration

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

A recent Inspector General report, NASA’s 2017 Top Management and Performance Challenges, finds the space agency is facing serious challenges with its deep space exploration effort. The space agency is dealing with slipping schedules, constrained budgets, and thin funding reserves as it seeks to complete development of the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft and Exploration Ground Systems. NASA also has only high-level plans for other systems that will be required to send astronauts on useful deep-space missions.

Key excerpts from the report follow.

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NASA Awards Contracts for Deep Space Gateway Power Studies

Boeing Deep Space Gateway (Credit: Boeing)

CLEVELAND (NASA PR) — NASA has selected five U.S. companies to conduct four-month studies for a power and propulsion element that could be used as part of the deep space gateway concept.

The agency is studying the gateway concept with U.S. industry and space station partners for potential future collaborations. These latest studies will help provide data on commercial capabilities as NASA defines objectives and requirements as well as help reduce risk for a new powerful and efficient solar electric propulsion (SEP) technology in deep space.

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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 concept, 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.

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