The power and propulsion systems will be developed by Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, in Westminster, Colorado. These provide a communications relay capability for NASA's Gateway orbiter that will serve as a mobile command and service module for human and robotic expeditions on the surface.
“The power and propulsion element is the foundation of Gateway and a fine example of how partnerships with US companies can help expedite NASA’s return to the Moon with the first woman and next man by 2024,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. “It will be the key component upon which we will build our lunar Gateway outpost, the cornerstone of NASA’s sustainable and reusable Artemis exploration architecture on and around the Moon.”
The contract covers a 50kW solar electric propulsion spacecraft that is three times more powerful than current capabilities. This will relay communications from the Moon’s South Pole. The contract begins with a 12-month base period for the design of the spacecraft. Further 26-month, 14-month option and two 12-month options will provide for the development, launch, and in-space flight demonstration.
After the demonstration, NASA will have the option to buy the spacecraft from Maxar for use as the first element of the Gateway, targeting a launch on a commercial rocket in late 2022.
“We’re excited to demonstrate our newest technology on the power and propulsion element. Solar electric propulsion is extremely efficient, making it perfect for the Gateway,” said Mike Barrett, power and propulsion element project manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland. “This system requires much less propellant than traditional chemical systems, which will allow the Gateway to move more mass around the Moon, like a human landing system and large modules for living and working in orbit.”
NASA plans to land on the Moon by 2024 and establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. This will then be used to prepare to send astronauts to Mars.