UAE Will Build Airlock for Artemis Gateway Lunar Space Station

UAE Will Build Airlock for Artemis Gateway Lunar Space Station

NASA announced this morning that the United Arab Emirates is joining the Artemis campaign to return astronauts to the Moon. The UAE will provide an airlock for the Gateway space station that will orbit the Moon. NASA once hoped Russia would provide the airlock as part of a continuation of the multilateral partnership that built and operates the International Space Station, but not after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Now the UAE has stepped up in another expansion of its evolving space program. Sending a UAE astronaut to Gateway is part of the agreement.

The goal of the Artemis campaign is not just to land astronauts on the Moon for a few brief missions with American astronauts like Apollo, but for long-term sustainable exploration and utilization of lunar resources with international and commercial partners.

Gateway is a small space station that will orbit the Moon and serve primarily as a transfer point for astronauts traveling to and from Earth and their lunar landers to take them down to and back from the surface. It will not be permanently occupied like the ISS and is much smaller, about 40 Metric Tons instead of 420 MT.

NASA illustration of the fully constructed Gateway lunar space station.

The Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and the European Space Agency — all partners in the ISS — are participating in Gateway already.  NASA is providing a Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and a Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). CSA is building a remote manipulator system, Canadarm3, similar to those it built for the space shuttle and the ISS. ESA is providing the European System Providing Refueling Infrastructure and Telecommunication (ESPRIT), as well as an International Habitat (I-Hab) jointly with JAXA.

NASA and the UAE’s Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) said today the UAE will provide the other critical element — a crew and science airlock so astronauts can exit to the outside of Gateway just like the airlocks on the ISS are used for spacewalks. Science experiments also can be exposed to the space environment through the airlock.

Artist’s concept of Gateway (left) and an artist’s concept of a government reference airlock (right). Credit: NASA

Two UAE astronauts have been aboard the ISS: Hazzaa AlMansoori in 2019 for 8 days on Russia’s Soyuz MS-15; and Sultan AlNeyadi for a long duration (6 month) mission in 2023 on NASA’s Crew-6 mission. AlNeyadi became the first Arab astronaut to make a spacewalk and recently was appointed as the UAE Minister of State for Youth Affairs.

Two more UAE astronauts are currently in training at NASA’s Johnson Space Center for future flights. The UAE was also one of the eight original signatories to the Artemis Accords.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a video posted on X that the agency is “thrilled” the UAE is joining the partnership.

The UAE government, which has bold human spaceflight aspirations including a human settlement on Mars by 2117,  posted a stirring video and a few details noting that the delivery date is 2030.

The UAE also is interested in robotic space exploration. They sent the first Arab orbiter to Mars, Hope. Launched in 2020, it successfully arrived in 2021.  They also sent a small (10 kilogram) rover, Rashid, to the Moon last year aboard the HAKUTO-R M1 mission launched by a Japanese commercial company, ispace, but the spacecraft crashed onto the lunar surface.

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