To return to the Moon by 2024, NASA will rely upon a lunar-orbit docking station known as the Gateway.
The Lunar Gateway will act as a kind of Command and Service Module to support human landings to the Moon’s surface.
But how will we get to the Gateway exactly?
In a live Tech Briefs Q&A titled The Next Giant Leap: Back to the Moon and On to Mars, a reader had the following question for Rob Chambers, Director of Human Spaceflight Strategy and Business Development for NASA contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems:
“What Type of Space Shuttle are you going to use for the Moon mission in 2024? And have you already made it?”
Read the edited response below from Chambers, who has an avionics and software background, and currently works on the spacecraft that is set to send astronauts to the Lunar Gateway.
Rob Chambers: “The space shuttle did, of course, get retired a few years ago. The focus now is using the Orion spacecraft as the shuttle (note the lowercase “s”), to shuttle humans back and forth from the Earth all the way out to the Moon.
It’s unlike the act of going up to the International Space Station and back, simply because of the redundancy and the propulsion systems that we need, as well as the life support.
The Orion spacecraft will fly next year for its first uncrewed flight, and then will begin carrying humans to the vicinity of the moon on Artemis 2. Orion will be the transportation system. It’s the world’s only 'exploration-class' spacecraft that’s ever been built.”
In July of 2019, NASA successfully demonstrated the launch abort system of Orion. The test spacecraft traveled to an altitude of about six miles, experienced the expected high-stress aerodynamic conditions of ascent, and triggered its abort motor, pulling the crew module away from the rocket.
Orion's attitude control motor properly oriented the capsule end-over-end. The jettison motor then fired, releasing the crew module for splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.
Artemis 1, planned for 2020, will be Orion’s first flight on NASA’s powerful new rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS). Artemis 2, the first crewed SLS and Orion flight, is targeted for a trip around the Moon in 2022.
NASA aims to complete Artemis 3, a rendezvous with the Gateway and landing on the Moon, by 2024.
For more information about the Orion spacecraft, the Lunar Gateway, and the Artemis missions, watch our Webinar on-demand: The Next Giant Leap: Back to the Moon and On to Mars.