Without fanfare,an article was posted on NASA's website a few days ago that crystallised the Orion Program more than had previously been done.The agency revealed its intentions for exploring cislunar space,the vicinity of the Moon,as a proving ground for missions to the Mars system and other solar system destinations:
1.The first phase of cislunar exploration will use current technologies and allow us to gain experience with extended operations farther from Earth than ever before.Such missions will enable NASA to develop new technologies and apply innovative approaches to solving problems in preparation for longer-duration missions far from Earth.Integral to this phase of the early Orion flights that will occur at a pace of one a year will be the construction of a relatively small orbiting spaceport,the gateway.The spaceport will have a power bus;a small habitat to expand mission length;docking capability;an airlock;and several logisitics modules to facilitate research.It will move among a family of orbits calibrated according to the requirements of various missions,such as close-in orbits for deploying lunar robotics or high orbits for support of long duration missions to other parts of the solar system.The gateway project is made possible by the expansive SLS cargo capacity plus the Orion spacecraft's crewed deep space capability.This spaceport will be developed,serviced and utilised in collaboration with commercial and international partners.*
2.The second phase will confirm that the agency's crewed capabilities can perform long duration missions beyond the Moon.For such missions,NASA plans a new deep space transport spacecraft that is reusable and runs on high power electric/chemical propulsion.This spacecraft will be specifically designed for crewed missions to Mars and other celestial bodies.It will take crews to their destinations and return to the gateway for servicing and eventual reuse.This transport,like the gateway spaceport itself,will take advantage of the large volumes and mass that that the SLS can launch,as well as the advanced exploration technologies now being developed and demonstrated on the ground and on ISS.
This second phase will culminate in the 2020s with a one year crewed mission in cislunar space to validate the readiness of the system to travel beyond the Moon and safely conduct missions independent of Earth.It will enable explorers to identify and pioneer solutions to technical and human challenges discovered or engineered in deep space,NASA explained.The agency states that it will look to partners for potential contributions of spaceflight hardware and the delivery of supplemental resources.The gateway and transport could potentially support multiple missions,representing several countries and agencies with partners from both government and private industry.NASA is open to both technical and programmatic ideas as it develops,matures and implements the Deep Space Gateway plan.*
In charge at NASA today:Robert Lightfoot is Acting Administrator pending President Donald Trump's permanent appointment;Dr.William Gerstenmeier is NASA's Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations;Astronaut Christopher Cassidy is Chief of the Astronaut Office;Julie Robinson is NASA Chief Scientist for the ISS.