With the Gateway in place, we can finally get back to exploring the lunar surface — in person.
Supplying the Gateway
Elon Musk-led space company SpaceX signed a contract with NASA on Friday to supply the Gateway, a space station orbiting the Moon, with cargo. NASA is planning to start construction of the station as soon as 2022, as Space.com reports.
"This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement. "The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars."
Back and Forth
To set up a second, smaller space station in the Moon's orbit will take a lot of trips back and forth.
"Through our partnership with NASA, SpaceX has been delivering scientific research and critical supplies to the International Space Station since 2012, and we are honored to continue the work beyond Earth’s orbit and carry Artemis cargo to Gateway," SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said in the statement.
To get to lunar orbit, SpaceX won't be using the Starship, a massive spacecraft currently in development for future deep space missions. Instead, it'll use a larger variant of the Dragon capsule called Dragon XL mounted on the Falcon Heavy, the Falcon 9's most powerful derivative.
To get from the Gateway to the lunar surface, NASA is planning to collaborate with different private partners for building landers.
READ MORE: NASA picks SpaceX to fly cargo to moon-orbiting Gateway space station [Space.com]
More on SpaceX: SpaceX Delays Launch Because of the Coronavirus