Maxar Wins First Gateway Contract

Maxar Wins First Gateway Contract

Maxar Technologies will build the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) for NASA’s lunar Gateway, the agency announced today.  The $375 million fixed price contract is another example of NASA transitioning to a commercial procurement strategy for its human exploration program.  Maxar will deliver the spacecraft to NASA in orbit.  In fact, it does not become NASA property until after an in-orbit demonstration phase that will last up to one year after launch.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made the announcement during a presentation at the Florida Institute of Technology where he laid out the current plan for getting astronauts on the Moon by 2024 as directed by the White House.  It was very similar to what a team of NASA officials presented to the NASA Advisory Council Science Committee earlier this week.

Gateway is a key element of the plan, although it has been scaled back to support the 2024 landing requirement.  It will consist only of the PPE, a mini-utilization module, and docking ports for the Orion spacecraft and vehicles to take the crew down to the surface and back.

The PPE is literally that — a spacecraft that provides electrical power to operate systems (including communications) and equipment and propulsion to place itself and anything docked with it into the desired orbit around the Moon.

The power and propulsion element provides a communications relay capability for NASA’s Gateway, enabling it to serve as a mobile command and service module for human and robotic expeditions to the lunar surface. Credits: NASA

What is unique about the PPE is that it will use a high-power Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system that permits the Gateway to be placed in a variety of lunar orbits depending on what type of activity it is supporting on the surface.  The Gateway is not intended to be permanently occupied.  It is a transfer point for astronauts arriving on a NASA Space Launch System-launched Orion spacecraft onto vehicles to take them down to the surface and return them to the Gateway for the trip home.

Current NASA concept for a “minimal” Gateway to support a 2024 landing. Credit: NASA

Maxar is rebranding all of its units with the Maxar name.  The part of Maxar that will design, build and demonstrate the PPE, Maxar Space Solutions, is better known in the space community as Space Systems/Loral.

Maxar said in a press release that the PPE is based on its 1300-class platform which already has been used for 91 commercial spacecraft that are in orbit. It also will be used for NASA’s Psyche mission and the Restore-L satellite servicing demonstration mission.

The contract has a 12-month base period of performance during which spacecraft design will be completed.  That will be followed by a 26-month option, a 14-month option, and two 12-month options.  The $375 million covers the base period and all of the options, which provide for development, launch, and the in-space flight demonstration.

Maxar will own and operate the PPE during the flight demonstration, which could last as long as a year.  NASA then will have the option to acquire the spacecraft, at no additional cost, for use as the first element of the Gateway.

In addition to the Maxar-provided equipment, about $10-12 million worth of Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) will be provided according to Johnson Space Center’s Dan Hartman, Gateway Program Manager. He participated in a media teleconference after Bridenstine’s speech with other NASA officials and Maxar’s Mike Gold, Vice President of Civil Space.

The GFE includes an international standard docking interface, low profile grapple fixtures for Canada’s Canadarm3, and an S-band antenna for rendezvous and proximity operations. PPE project manager Mike Barrett, from Glenn Research Center, added that the PPE is intended to have a 15-year maintenance-free lifetime, so maintenance costs are not a consideration.

Launch is targeted for late 2022.

Gold said Maxar has not yet chosen a launch vehicle provider. He said there are many good options.  He also expressed optimism that this is just the first order for a PPE.  He envisions a robust cislunar economy with many customers needing space tugs to take mass from one place to another.

Maxar is partnering with Blue Origin and Draper for this project.  Gold said Blue Origin will support human-spaceflight related activities, while Draper will do navigation and orbital trajectories.

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