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NASA will use the SpaceX Falcon Heavy to launch the lunar Gateway propulsion system and the habitation module, which serve as a foundation of the outpost. It opted for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy as it provides a significantly larger lift capacity than the widely used Falcon 9. Heavy has seen only two commercial launches since its test launch in 2018.
Picking a vehicle that is able to launch these two essential parts into lunar orbit represents a huge step for NASA; however, it may lead to additional work later on if NASA’s Space Launch System continues to see delays.
The contract will require a heavy collaboration between SpaceX, NASA, Northrop Grumman, and Maxar. The latter two are responsible for producing the two parts — called the HALO and power and propulsion element (PPE).
The two components, PPE and HALO, represent the two key parts that will provide a self-sustaining lunar orbital habitat. In other words, these two parts include a pressurized cabin and the power source that makes it operational and allows maneuvering.
Components cannot be launched in a number of different pieces on smaller vehicles due to their large size. That’s why NASA picked SpaceX Falcon Heavy, one of the heavy launch vehicles that had successful test launches.
Since its introduction, SpaceX Falcon Heavy has launched three times, including a maiden flight in 2018 that launched a Tesla Roadster with a dummy named “Starman” to orbit Mars.
At the moment, the launch is expected to occur after May 2024; however, the delays are possible due to a number of reasons. The Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and the next man on the moon, is currently seeing a reality alignment.
The return to the moon over the next five or six years is still a challenge as NASA aims to stay there next time. NASA is likely to provide additional timeline updates over the next several months.
Startup Savant reported last week that SpaceX announced its plan to launch a flight solely occupied by civilians.
NASA has picked SpaceX Falcon Heavy to deliver two essential Gateway lunar orbiter parts, PPE and HALO, that will together form an orbiting space outpost providing a gateway to the moon. The contract is valued at $332 million, and the Falcon Heavy is expected to launch in 2024.