ESA Formally Agrees to Gateway Partnership

ESA Formally Agrees to Gateway Partnership

The heads of NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) signed an agreement today formally outlining ESA’s role in the Gateway, a small space station that will orbit the Moon as part of the Artemis program. International and commercial partnerships are foundational to Artemis according to NASA and the White House.  Canada and Japan also have signed agreements signaling their intent to participate as well.

Though COVID-19 kept them geographically apart, ESA Director General Jan Woerner and NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine jointly signed the Memorandum of Understanding today.

The Gateway, in lunar orbit, will be quite small compared to the International Space Station (ISS) in Earth orbit — about one-sixth the size — but builds on the decades of cooperation that led to ISS’s construction and operation.

ISS will celebrate its 20th year of permanent human occupancy on Monday, November 2, the anniversary of when the first crew, Expedition 1, came aboard. But the program began years earlier in 1984 with President Ronald Reagan’s State of the Union Address. Europe, Japan and Canada were the first countries to join, signing an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) in 1988 when it was known as Space Station Freedom.

The IGA was revised when Russia joined after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The current version was signed in 1998 and now has been adapted to cover international participation in Gateway.

Russia has not yet agreed to join the Gateway effort, though NASA hopes it will provide an airlock.

Gateway will be a staging point for crews traveling between Earth and the lunar surface, and perhaps someday between the Earth and Mars.

The initial version, to be launched in 2023 under NASA’s current plan, will be only a Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and a Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), both provided by U.S. companies (Maxar and Northrop Grumman). But the plan is to expand it with contributions from the other countries over subsequent years. NASA asserts Gateway is not needed to put “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon by 2024 as directed by the Trump Administration, but will be for the “sustainable” phase of lunar exploration to follow.

ESA released this illustration of Gateway today, highlighting ESA’s contributions.

The U.S. PPE (with its large solar arrays) and HALO are on the far left.

ESA and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will provide the International Habitation Module (I-Hab).

Orion is the U.S. spacecraft that will take crews from Earth to lunar orbit, which has a service module provided by ESA (the European Service Module).

ESA also will provide the ESPRIT module that provides communications, a refueling capability, and windows so the crew can look out to the Earth and the Moon, similar to the Cupola on the ISS.

The Logistics Vehicle and Human Lander System shown with the NASA logo are being procured by NASA from commercial sources. The first logistics contract was awarded to SpaceX earlier this year.  Three companies (SpaceX, Dynetics, and a National Team led by Blue Origin) are currently vying for HLS contracts.

Canada’s Canadarm3, a remote manipulator system that builds on Canada’s historic contributions to the space shuttle (Canadarm) and ISS (Canadarm2), is shown as “robotics.”

As part of the deal, ESA secured three flight opportunities for European astronauts to travel to and work on the Gateway.

In a statement, Woerner said:

“This MoU marks a critical point in Europe’s trajectory: it confirms we are going forward to the Moon, not just in terms of equipment and technology, but also with our people. Europe will play a central role in the new era of global space exploration along with NASA and our partners, delivering exemplary, game-changing architectures to explore the Moon and Mars and inspiring generations to come.”

Dan Hartman, NASA’s Gateway program manager at Johnson Space Center, said “ESA’s impactful contribution will enable longer crew duration stays around the Moon and provide unique capabilities necessary to support its operations.”

Although the IGA can serve as the basis for agreements about the Gateway since they both are space stations, NASA and the State Department are using a different approach for reaching agreement on what to do on the lunar surface.  Countries that want to participate with NASA in Artemis surface activities must agree to the Artemis Accords, developed by NASA and the U.S. State Department setting forth principles of behavior.

Earlier this month, representatives of Japan and Canada joined the United States and others in signing the Accords.  ESA, however, is an international organization of 22 countries, so cannot itself sign. That is up to individual member states. Three ESA members did sign: Italy, Luxembourg, and the United Kingdom.  At the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher Von Braun symposium today, ESA Washington Representative Sylvie Espinasse pointed out that there are differing points of view among ESA’s members about matters addressed in the Accords such as mining lunar resources. More international discussions in venues like the United Nations Committee on Peaceful Uses of Outer Space are anticipated, but that is separate from the Gateway agreements.

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