It is a new step in the exploration of the Moon. A future space station, smaller than the current ISS (International Space Station), will orbit the moon and occasionally host astronauts to allow scientific experiments different from those conducted on the ISS. The station, named Lunar Gateway, could later serve as a relay for manned missions to our satellite. American and European companies are involved in this project.
In March 2022, Nasa launches its Artemis program, which plans to send new astronauts to the Moon as early as 2025. This program has different reasons, like training scientists and astronauts for manned trips to Mars, to compete with China, but above all to establish a permanent presence on the Moon thanks to the future Gateway station, placed in orbit around the Moon. The Gateway space station will have multiple functions. It will be a scientific laboratory, a test bed for new technologies, a stopover for missions to the Moon as well as the control center for them, and one day, perhaps a springboard for travel to Mars. There will be no permanent crew on Gateway, but a manned mission at least once a year, with the station able to accommodate four astronauts for a probable duration of one month.
Some modules of the station will be provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), with construction by European players. ESA has signed contracts with Airbus and Thales Alenia Space (TAS) to participate in the project. In addition to the European participation on the station and the Orion service module, there will be the EL3 (European Large Logistics Lander) automatic cargo ship that can deliver 1.5 tons of equipment and scientific experiments to the moon. These are the new space objects that will be manufactured on European soil.
The Gateway station will initially be composed of two modules planned for 2024. They are the PPE (Power and Propulsion Element) and HALO (Habitation and Logistics Outpost) modules. The first module will be the one where the propulsion and the solar panels are located. The second will be the living quarters for the astronauts. Although the realization of these two modules has been entrusted by NASA to Maxar (PPE) and Northrop Grumman (HALO), the european comapny Crisa, a Spanish subsidiary of Airbus Defence and Space, also has a role to play in the development of a power management and distribution system for the HALO module. Crisa has signed a contract with Northrop Grumman worth more than $50 million. The European Space Agency (ESA) will supply two other Gateway Station modules, ESPRIT (European System Providing Refueling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications) and I-Hab, through TAS, which has facilities in Turin, Italy, and Cannes, France. The company is jointly owned by Thales (67%) and Italy’s Leonardo (33%).
Regarding these ESA-supplied modules built by TAS, the ESPRIT module is under construction at the Cannes site (in collaboration with Thales Alenia Space in Italy and the United Kingdom), and is scheduled for delivery to the U.S. in 2023, to be operational by 2024. The total budget for the ESPRIT module is 296.5 million euros. The second module, I-HAB (the main habitat for astronauts) is manufactured in the Italian factory in Turin. It is scheduled for launch in 2026.
The Turin site specializes in this type of production: for example, the factory has already designed 50% of the pressurized modules for the ISS, and will even be the manufacturing site for the first private space station for the American start-up Axiom Space.The plant is also involved in the construction of the Orion manned capsule, which will send American astronauts to the Moon by 2025.
Finally, the TAS site in Turin is also involved in preparing the European Rosalind Franklin rover for the ExoMars 2022 mission, which will take off in the fall of 2022 to search for traces of life on the Red Planet.