News, Technology

Long-term Lunar Landings: Deeper Exploration of the Moon

Kenton Reynolds

Kenton Reynolds, Writer

NASA award contract for the building of habitation for astronauts in lunar orbit.

NASA’s Artemis program, the sister of the Apollo missions, is described as “Humanity’s return to the Moon”. In this, NASA aims to put people and robots onto the moon to learn even more from the lunar surface; carry out further research and access more resources. Excitingly, Artemis will not only put people on the moon but put them there long term to carry out more prolonged experiments and send astronauts frequently. The moon is not the final objective of the mission either, it is merely a stepping stone for the more distant objectives: human Mars landings and deep space exploration. There are many ground-breaking aspects of Artemis. The missions will boast the first woman on the moon; the first person of colour on the moon; access to many new resources; and finally the first habitation in lunar orbit.

The habitation will be on board the Gateway. This is a satellite that will allow for sustainable, long-term human returns to the moon. In addition, the Gateway could also be used as a stop off point for deep space exploration missions. In order to act as this Moon Motel, where astronauts can stop off mid journey, the Gateway will have two main elements for now: HALO and PPE.

PPE is the Power and Propulsion Element which is being built by Maxar Technologies. This is a 60 Kilowatt solar electric propulsion craft that is extremely high power. Being three times more powerful than current capabilities, it will allow the Gateway to provide a relay to the lunar surface and transport astronauts for expeditions.

The Habitation And Logistics Output (HALO) will be the crew cabin for astronauts onboard Gateway which provides basic life support. It will have a multitude of functions which include command; control; data handling capabilities; energy storage; power distribution; thermal control; communications; tracking capabilities; environmental control; and life support systems. As well as this, HALO will have several docking ports for the future as NASA aim to send multiple deep space missions as well as Mars and Moon crafts too which could all visit the Gateway. Space for science and stowage is also required for the astronauts that will live in HALO.

Such a vast and diverse range of functions will make the HALO incredibly difficult and complicated to engineer so the choice of who to contract in its design and build was incredibly important. NASA have selected Northrop Grumman to take on the $935 million job. This is a business giant that specialises in defence and aerospace. They’re forward leaning, pioneering spirit have already made them industry leaders in global security as well as space discovery. Such an impressive standing in the space markets will be what has led NASA to trust Northrop Grumman with the project.

HALO and PPE are due to be launched in 2023. They will be the first components of the lunar Gateway with future modules possibly being added in the future. Artemis will be the next step in utilising the vastness of resources in space that we don’t have access to just yet and placing Northrop Grumman in charge of HALO is the next step toward seeing Artemis in action.

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