NASA wants to land humans on the moon in just five years — and the agency has chosen its first company to help the Artemis program build a lunar outpost for those astronauts: Maxar.
Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that decision today (May 23) during a speech that outlined how NASA plans to land humans on the moon by 2024. "The goal here is speed," he said during his speech. "2024 is right around the corner."
Maxar will build the power and propulsion element of the Gateway, the lunar orbital station NASA is designing as a staging facility for future human exploration of the moon. The Colorado-based company's current experience with space technology includes a fleet of Earth-imaging satellites.
Maxar's power and propulsion element will be a solar electric propulsion unit. Such a unit would be maneuverable around the moon and could be adapted for a Mars journey as well, according to NASA. This particular design will be three times more powerful than current designs, the agency added in announcing the purchase.
The agency is hoping to launch the power and propulsion element in late 2022, just over three years from now, and has said that unit would ride on a commercial rocket and be the first major component of the Gateway, allowing astronauts to easily access all regions of the surface. (Without such a facility, the Apollo astronauts were all limited to the equatorial regions.)
Gateway itself has been in NASA's moon plans for a while, but the project gained urgency in March, when Vice President Mike Pence announced that President Donald Trump wanted to speed up the timeline for returning humans to the moon, now targeting 2024 for the first crewed landing.
Earlier this month, the effort was dubbed the Artemis program, a nod to Apollo's twin sister in Greek mythology.
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