The gateway to deep space. Who needs a lunar Gateway station and why?

(ORDO NEWS) — There was information that Russia was excluded from the expert group to discuss the prospects for creating a circumlunar station Gateway. After the Russian side repeatedly stated that its role in this project was insufficient, its representatives were no longer included in the distribution of letters and discussions on this topic.

The head of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin said that we have never been part of the expert group on the creation of the Gateway: “Yes, NASA sent us some documents a couple of times, held a briefing (not a discussion, but a briefing). But we have already stated more than once that we are ready to take part in a project where all participants are equal. As an example, they cited the principles on which the ISS is based. However, what NASA is currently trying to do on the Moon is an American project with limited external partners. We are not interested in this.”

Why was he criticized?

– The project for the construction of a multi-module visited station in a halo orbit several thousand kilometers from the Moon was presented to NASA in March 2017. Then the station was called Deep Space Gateway (“Gate to deep space”). It should become a new laboratory for studying cosmic effects and a support for further research manned flights to the Moon and Mars.

But the Americans understood that they would not pull such a project alone, and said that they hoped for an international partnership. Before everyone’s eyes there is a great example – the ISS. Several national space agencies are involved in its construction and maintenance. Almost all of them were invited to participate in the Deep Space Gateway project.

has been criticized by many experts. Thus, the founder of the “Martian Community” Robert Zubrin wrote an essay “The worst plan of NASA” in the pages of the Washington Post. His main complaint against the space agency was that it plans to devote significant resources to approaching the Moon without the possibility of landing: such medical experiments of Nazi doctors were hung in Nuremberg. ”

The indignation of space exploration enthusiasts can be understood: fly 400 thousand kilometers and stop in a lunar orbit? After all, they learned to land on the moon half a century ago!

It seems to many that the lunar surface is the only logical step away from near-earth stations, and the near-lunar station seems to be some kind of half-measure. But this does not take into account the important limit that separates modern astronautics from the lunar surface. Landing on the moon is a difficult and responsible operation, it is comparable in risk to a launch from Earth. In the 1960s, flight risk was an integral part of the profession, and astronauts and astronauts deliberately went on missions that promised only 30% success. Society was sympathetic to the inevitable sacrifices, but now is a different time. Even in war, more and more functions are transferred to drones, and even in a peaceful space business, unreasonable risk looks like madness.

What is the station at the moon for?

The economic reason for the lunar station is also important. If you build a base on the moon, there will be significant costs not only for the landing system, but also for the construction of residential modules. They learned how to build stations for weightlessness, but it is a completely different matter – gravity is 1/6 of the earth’s. These are untested conditions requiring a lot of preparatory work, testing, and industrial re-equipment.

The station design proposed by NASA is practically no different from the ISS, it borrows a lot from it: residential modules, solar panels, radiators. Gateway, however, will not be a simple retracement. A lunar station will need to be more automated.

Light travels the distance to the moon in about 1 second. Thus, the delay in communication between the station and the Earth will not be significant. But conversations are just one channel of information exchange. The ISS is very closely connected to the Earth, since control and management of almost all onboard systems of the station is carried out from the surface. In the case of a circumlunar station, the autonomy of onboard systems is necessary – this is an indispensable condition for flights in deep space.

We’ll have to solve the problem of cosmic radiation. The vicinity of the Moon is already interplanetary space, and the radiation situation there is the same that awaits the crews on the way to Mars. The ISS flies under the cover of the geomagnetic field and the upper atmosphere. And the Earth itself covers more than 40% of the space and screens galactic and solar radiation. And in interplanetary space, the background will be about twice as high as on the ISS. It will have to be protected from it by more complex means, ready-made industrial solutions will be required.

The presence of a residential station will significantly simplify the procedure for landing on the moon. Having a base in orbit, it is possible to increase the volume and mass of the landing craft and deliver it to the station automatically. The large module will make it easier to work on the lunar surface, allow you to stay there longer, bring more equipment, conduct more experiments, explore more area, and begin capital construction.

It will be easier to start from the Moon to Mars. If you assemble a Martian spacecraft in a circumlunar halo orbit, gradually bringing up fuel tanks and structural elements, then you can save up to a third of the mass of fuel for a flight compared to a launch from a near-earth orbit. Even greater savings can be achieved if one part of the station is already made in the form of a compartment on a Martian ship.

Does Russia need this?

Russia quickly got involved in the Gateway project. Joint meetings of Roscosmos and NASA began almost immediately after the announcement of the project.

For Roscosmos, cooperation with NASA in the 1990s on the Mir program, and in the 2000s on the ISS program practically ensured the safety and high level of manned space exploration. But what will happen after the ISS? You need a worthy and at the same time affordable goal.

With entering the lunar partnership, such a goal would appear. First, there would again be opportunities to receive orders for the development and operation of technology for NASA. Secondly, there is a long-term meaning in super-heavy rocket and interplanetary flights. Thirdly, the industry would receive such a long-awaited new stimulus for development, and young collectives would finally be able to realize themselves not in repeating Soviet schemes, but in introducing something new.

The participation of Roscosmos would also help NASA. The dependence of partners is mutual here. Despite the dominant role of the United States in the project, this would be a truly full-fledged cooperation in space exploration, which can only be welcomed.

But, unfortunately, no agreement was reached on what conditions the Russian side is participating in in the Gateway project.

How will the situation change now?

Now Russia will look for its own way in space. Here we are limited not so much by fantasy or technology as by economics. Earlier, I jokingly said that the future of our astronautics shows the oil course best of all: if there is a barrel for $ 200, we will have our own lunar base; will be for $ 150 – we will have our own near-earth station; will be for $ 100 – which means we are friends with the Americans and fly to the ISS.

Now the oil rate is not happy, and friendship with the Americans does not work out, and then the virus also flew in. The most logical way is to look for new international partners, but who? China has its own manned program, and they are only ready to invite guests. India is seen as a more interested partner, but they also have enough economic problems, and manned technologies are in their infancy. You can think of very young space powers – for example, the United Arab Emirates … In general, Roscosmos is facing a very difficult task, and the coincidence of circumstances is not in its favor.

Now these circumstances are pushing towards the project of its own near-earth station. It requires more modest costs (in comparison with lunar ambitions) and can give a new impetus to the development of our cosmonautics for the next decade.


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