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Northrop Grumman snags $187 million to design NASA's lunar Gateway habitat for astronauts

Artist's concept of the Gateway power and propulsion and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) in orbit around the moon.
Artist's concept of the Gateway power and propulsion and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) in orbit around the moon.
(Image: © NASA)

NASA has awarded Northrop Grumman $187 million to design the habitat module for the space agency's lunar Gateway, a planned moon-orbiting space station for astronauts.

We learned last year that NASA had tapped Virginia-based Northrop Grumman to build Gateway's pressurized crew cabin, called the habitation and logistics outpost (HALO). The company will base HALO on its Cygnus spacecraft, which has been flying contracted robotic cargo missions to the International Space Station for NASA since 2014.

On Friday (June 5), the space agency announced some terms of the deal: Northrop Grumman will receive $187 million to fund HALO's design through a key milestone called preliminary design review, which is expected to be complete by the end of this year.

Related: Can NASA really put astronauts on the moon in 2024?

"This contract award is another significant milestone in our plan to build robust and sustainable lunar operations," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "The Gateway is a key component of NASA’s long-term Artemis architecture, and the HALO capability furthers our plans for human exploration at the moon in preparation for future human missions to Mars."

Artemis is NASA's program of crewed lunar exploration, which aims to land two astronauts near the moon's south pole in 2024 and establish a sustainable human presence on and around the cosmic body by 2028. As Bridenstine noted, the agency envisions such work paving the way for the next giant leap: getting astronauts to Mars, which NASA aims to do in the 2030s.

Gateway likely won't be involved in the 2024 landing, but NASA sees the mini space station as crucial to its longer-term lunar plans. The outpost will serve as a jumping-off point for sorties, both crewed and uncrewed, to the lunar surface.

The current plan calls for launching Gateway's first two elements — HALO and the power and propulsion element (PPE), which will be built by Maxar Technologies — together in 2023. NASA expects to award Northrop Grumman a second contract by the end of the year, to build HALO and integrate it with the PPE, agency officials said.

Also key to the Artemis vision are NASA's Orion crew capsule and Space Launch System (SLS) megarocket, which together will get astronauts off the ground and on their way to deep space. 

Orion has one flight under its belt, an uncrewed test mission to Earth orbit that took place in December 2014. SLS has not launched yet; it's scheduled to debut late next year on the Artemis 1 mission, which will send an uncrewed Orion on a test flight around the moon.

Orion will provide life support for astronauts aboard the Gateway, along with HALO, which will provide about as much living space as a small studio apartment.

Gateway, and the Artemis program overall, will leverage considerable cooperation from partners in the international community and the private sector. For example, the European Space Agency will provide Orion's service module, and the landers that ferry NASA astronauts from the outpost to the lunar surface will be privately built.

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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  • egribble
    NASA talks about going to Mars and the need for Gateway to achieve that goal. At one time NASA was talking about a deep space transport to depart from the gateway. They have gone very quiet. Has anyone actually seen a recent NASA plan for going to Mars? My thoughts are that they do not actually have a long term plan which means the Mars part of Artemis is just waffle.
    Reply
  • MarcUK001
    I think its good news that NASA is going ahead with the Gateway station. Having a small space station in orbit increases the program flexibility as any lunar landers can be based there. Thou, i can see them have two landers docked to the gateway. This station could become a very large structure.
    Reply
  • MarcUK001
    egribble said:
    NASA talks about going to Mars and the need for Gateway to achieve that goal. At one time NASA was talking about a deep space transport to depart from the gateway. They have gone very quiet. Has anyone actually seen a recent NASA plan for going to Mars? My thoughts are that they do not actually have a long term plan which means the Mars part of Artemis is just waffle.

    Hi, the last thing i saw about NASA going back to Mars was this news article.
    https://scitechdaily.com/nasa-wants-to-go-nuclear-on-the-moon-and-mars-for-astronaut-settlement/
    I don't think chemical propulsion isn't practical. Scaled up Ion drives sounds a good move and i`m following that technology. In my eyes, Artemis and Mars are two different programs. But is launching a mission from lunar orbit to Mars actually practical. Its makes sense to build a ship in earth orbit and launch it from earth orbit.

    Artemis is laying the foundation for commercial moon mining. Fusion power is coming, it needs helium-3 as a fuel. Its been estimated that there are around 1,100,000 metric tonnes of helium-3 on the surface of the Moon down to a depth of a few meters. Basing the lunar landers in orbit, allows them to cover the whole moon surface. H3 could also fuel any deep space missions.
    Reply
  • Chaven
    egribble said:
    NASA talks about going to Mars and the need for Gateway to achieve that goal. At one time NASA was talking about a deep space transport to depart from the gateway. They have gone very quiet. Has anyone actually seen a recent NASA plan for going to Mars? My thoughts are that they do not actually have a long term plan which means the Mars part of Artemis is just waffle.
    Are you familiar with Project Eagle. If you did you will know that work was already done on a conceptual planned Martian habitat in the Gale crater on Mars. With the amount of money NASA gets each year you can be sure Congress will be very demanding.
    Reply
  • MarcUK001
    Chaven said:
    Are you familiar with Project Eagle. If you did you will know that work was already done on a conceptual planned Martian habitat in the Gale crater on Mars. With the amount of money NASA gets each year you can be sure Congress will be very demanding.

    Yes, im familiar with Project Eagle. Its an interesting idea, Blackbird Interactive were contacted by JPL. The final habitation modules for the first base will be built on the earth.. what after happen afterwards is another thing. Thou there is also talk of Nasa building a base in some of those caves the MRO discovered.
    Reply
  • Lovethrust
    Chaven said:
    Are you familiar with Project Eagle. If you did you will know that work was already done on a conceptual planned Martian habitat in the Gale crater on Mars. With the amount of money NASA gets each year you can be sure Congress will be very demanding.
    The amount of funding NASA gets is equivalent to a moth fart in a hurricane when compared to the overall budget but you are right Congress is always demanding of NASA.
    Reply