NASA revealed that SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the first two parts of the Lunar Gateway. This will be an outpost that will orbit the moon and will serve as a pit stop for future missions to the moon.
Initially, the two pieces of Gateway, which includes the astronaut living quarters and the propulsion module, were designed to be launched separately. However, the agency's latest decision to choose Elon Musk's SpaceX heavy-lift rocket means they will be able to launch the two parts together. The single trip costs $332 million.
In the agency's announcement on Tuesday, NASA named the two elements that Falcon Heavy will send to space. This would include the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) and Gateway's Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). It also revealed that the agency plans to launch the two elements into space "no earlier than May 2024."
The PPE and HALO are key components that will provide a lunar orbital habitat that is basically self-sustaining. It has the pressurised cabin, as well as the power source, that are basic fundamental elements. Due to the sizes of the parts, they could not just be sent using smaller rockets. Since SpaceX has already flown three successful missions, the agency settled with Musk's company, reported TechCrunch.
There are other launch missions slated for SpaceX. In 2022, it will be the one to launch the Psyche asteroid mission on the rocket, at a cost of $117 million. Previously in 2020, a single Falcon Heavy launch was made for the Air Force, which cost the latter $316 million.
The Verge reported that NASA's original plan was to have the two parts launched separately into space. The PPE will be built by Maxar while the HALO will be built by Northrop Grumman. NASA decided to launch them together in order to cut costs, but as it turned out, the cost increased since both Maxar and Northrop needed to redesign several components, as noted by the inspector general in a report that was released last year.
The mission, will be a serious investment for the agency and would need a good collaboration between NASA and SpaceX including Maxar and Northrop Grumman.