31 thoughts on “The Gateway”

  1. Shouldn’t we at least figure out what the Lunar Gateway is for before we cancel it? It’s bound to have a purpose that nobody has yet fathomed. Perhaps it’s supposed to be a scientific base for studying the asteroid that we were going to retrieve so Orion would have a reason for a rendezvous and spacewalk, before this lunar return idea cropped up as a real proposal.

    Although I don’t support actually building the Lunar Gateway, I do support keeping it around as a design concept because it provides so many opportunities for snark and sarcasm.

    I’m also worried that if we kill the Lunar Gateway, the same folks will just write up a requirement for a station orbiting Venus to support slingshot missions to Mars, with a crew of five that will wave at the Mars astronauts as they go whizzing past.

  2. The real story of Gateway is is a little too complicated for a comments section but I can say with 100% certantity that this statement is false.

    “It was conceived, designed, and proposed by the big aerospace companies Lockheed Martin and Boeing as a justification for the continuing construction of SLS and Orion”

    1. A complicated story, but the pertinent question remains, does Gateway serve any useful and cost effective purpose?

      1. Useful? Sure but everyone will disagree on whether or not those uses are the best route to take while supporting other routes that all have their own drawbacks. Cost effective is also a matter of opinion for similar reasons.

    2. Robert Zimmern tends to be a little sensational. Sometimes accuracy must suffer when trying to be persuasive.

    3. Sounds like 100% certainty is not what it used to be. If the statement isn’t so, then why be dependent on SLS and Orion at all? Those are huge, costly failure modes which you can avoid merely by excising them completely from the planning for Gateway.

    4. Yup, the real story there is that the Gateway was put into the NRHO orbit, instead of a much more sensible EML-1 halo, solely to accommodate the SLS. The trajectory study didn’t even consider EML-1 in the options, going with DRO, NRHO, EML-2 and I think another one.

      Anyone familiar with my cislunar econosphere work knows that I am a huge fan of an EML-1 facility for a number of good reasons. Boeing HSF&E said in 2001 when I presented my internship project that they’d seen the concepts before, but how the heck did an international banker figure it out? [because it makes sense, duh] I was stunned when the NASA Exploration Team (NExT) briefing for NASA Academy in 2002 basically presented everything I’d figured out the year prior. [because it makes sense, duh] ULA even cribbed the graphic from my 2012 Cislunar Econosphere article at The Space Review for their Cislunar-1000 work in 2015-17.

      So a cislunar facility, albeit at EML-1, makes a lot of sense to a lot of different people, for a lot of reasons, and has for a long time.

      Gateway in NRHO? Not so much.

      1. So a cislunar facility, albeit at EML-1, makes a lot of sense to a lot of different people, for a lot of reasons, and has for a long time.

        You are right but not just right because the orbit was chosen to accommodate SLS. The orbit was chosen to accommodate NASA plan to get to Mars using SLS. People are forgetting that NASA doesn’t want to just go to the Moon, so their plan isn’t min maxing on that one thing.

        I think Super Heavy and Starship require a rethinking of everything NASA wants to do. But I think its an important quibble, and one that can be effectively criticized, that one of the purposes for SLS and Gateway is to support Mars missions and not just cislunar stuff.

        1. A rethinking of everything NASA wants to do is a lovely thought. I firmly believe it would require a significant turnover in personnel, especially amongst the leadership ranks, many of whom should have retired to comfortable academic or consulting gigs long ago. It would also require a significant multi-dimensional reorganization, something that is never easy in an established cultural milieu.

          I am aware that the NRHO orbit is designed to support EML-2 as the lowest delta-V launch site in near-Earth space to Mars, with the subtle distinction that NRHO was noted in the trajectory study as a derived EML-2 halo, so to speak. IIRC, it shook out of the ARM efforts to identify a somewhat stable lunar orbit, like the DRO. The lesson being stay far away, and if you do have to go near be like a Molniya (quick zip around the Moon and then linger long time way out towards apogee). Wait, no, it might be more recent…

          I no more count on Super Heavy or Starship than I do SLS. None of them has launched crews into space, and that is the first fundamental step in any future cislunar efforts. Everything else is pretty talk busy work. Prove the product works and I’ll be happy to discuss how it could be used.

  3. I think it makes sense to have a “gateway” at high Earth orbit, in order to do a Mars exploration program.
    And I believe Gateway is in a high Earth orbit or cislunar space. But I generally mean somewhere around Earth/Moon L-1 / 2 as example of high Earth orbit.
    I also think should have a “gateway” at Mars L 1 or 2 as part of Mars exploration program.

    But I think there is a large political advantage of having cheap (quick) Lunar exploration program, and adding Gateway is not in that direction.
    Having both SLS and Gateway are really drag on doing a cheap and fast lunar program.
    Pick one. I would allow a limited SLS program.

    1. But I think there is a large political advantage of having cheap (quick) Lunar exploration program, and adding Gateway is not in that direction.

      True but look at the chart posted the other day. SLS/Orion/Gateway are just one track NASA is on. The other track has yearly robotic missions that rely on commercial launchers. Berger even floated the conspiracy theory that the Trump administration put poison pills in the plan to generate political support for cancelling SLS et all.

      I think the prospecting missions are very important. They are small measured risks that incrementally build capability and understanding. X is where we are in terms of development. SN is what space nerds always talk about. Enthusiasm must be tempered by the reality of the steps that must be taken to achieve a shared vision.


      1.  They are small measured risks that incrementally build capability and understanding.

        Those are small risks because NASA has already proven they have the capability of landing unmanned exploratory vehicles on planets. And this was done without a SLS.

        1. The lunar prospecting missions also take place without SLS. IMO, the small measured risks are not just “landing” and not just for developing NASA’s capabilities but rather an industry that allows NASA to do more than it can on its own while competing with many other worthy causes over the federal budget.

    2. There is another option, have NASA stop funding ISS.
      I tend to think you have to stop spending much money related to ISS
      before doing Mars exploration program. But you can continue ISS program while doing the Lunar exploration.
      But if want to do Gateway and SLS, then a third option is ending US involvement as major partner of ISS.
      To do this, you convince China to become main partner with Russia with ISS and US involvement is limited like Japan and Europe.

      So China replaces the US superpower which is currently mostly funding ISS.
      One thing they say about ISS is suppose help international relations and particularly in regard to Russia. And one could argue China also needs to improve it’s international relations and particularly with Russia historically they don’t get along with each other very well.
      And there is not much reason for conflict between US and Russia, it’s mainly because the US is the superpower that causes Russia to be always hostile to US. So if China become a super power or the super power, Russia will treat China just like it treats the US- perhaps worse.
      I tend to think China becoming a or the super power is a bit delusional, but it is China’s plan.
      Another aspect of ISS was it was supposed to lead to commercial developments, and not being major partner of ISS, may not deter any US business interest in ISS to continue. They would simply need to work with Chinese and Russians [instead of with NASA} and they could more successful not working with NASA. Or any change might shake things up. Of course also Chinese might develop commerical uses of ISS.
      And if US isn’t major partner it doesn’t need to decide in the future to de-orbit the International Space Station. PR wise crashing any international space station is not a good move.
      Let the Chinese and Russians figure it out.

      I think the ISS should put in higher orbit and it’s possible Chinese would make a similar decision.

  4. Pretty sure the Trump administration publicly proclaimed the directive to NASA. I’d be happy if SLS went away, but that doesn’t mean the current and past administrations and congresses don’t/didn’t play a leading role.

    It is true that the traditional way of doing things with cost plus contracts and what not has been bad and this is changing in some ways. This is why I harp so much on the dual tracks NASA is on. I really wish Mr Zimmerman would acknowledge that they exist.

    While some might argue Gateway’s practical benefits, most of those arguments originate not from a desire by elected officials to serve the needs of the nation, but from the parochial needs of those bureaucrats and the specific companies that will benefit from its construction.

    There are a lot of problems with this statement. It isn’t entirely incorrect but it is surely correct in unintentionally as well. I’d enjoy reading some detailed pros vs cons from actual positions people have. I don’t read all the space nerd sites but it is something that I haven’t seen much of.

    1. Traditional aerospace contracting and cost plus aren’t really the SLS’s main problem. It’s problem is that is was obsolete before they even designed it, because they had to reuse 1970’s era Shuttle components. Even if it was on time and under budget, it would still be a bad solution to cheap heavy launch because it’s inherently very expensive and totally non-reusable.

      It’s gives about the same performance as various cargo Shuttle proposals from the late 1980’s. The Shuttle-C from 1988 was to have the capability to put 169,000 lbs of cargo into LEO, using only two SSMEs, and the Shuttle C block II proposal upped that to 179,600 lbs. The Shuttle-Z from 1989, which used 4 SSME’s on the main stage and one SSME for the third stage, was to put 192,000 lbs in LEO, almost as much as the SLS Block I, but in a package only 231 feet high and still using the 4-segment SRB’s.

      Those ideas were dropped because they were more expensive per pound to orbit than the Titan IV. Yet the SLS isn’t competing with an expensive launcher like the Titan. It will have to compete with reusable heavies like Falcon Heavy, Starship, and New Glenn, while having all the costs of a giant government operation.

      1. Traditional aerospace contracting and cost plus aren’t really the SLS’s main problem. It’s problem is that is was obsolete before they even designed it

        Yeah, but it wasn’t just reusing shuttle stuff from the 1970’s. What makes it obsolete are alternatives, thanks SpaceX! IMO, a big reason for why it costs so much and is taking so long is because of the traditional way NASA does contracting and development. NASA is structurally incapable of doing what SpaceX did.

        Let’s pretend that NASA went for some other launcher than SLS, all of the problems would still exist. Even if the design met your approval, it would be very expensive and have a long development time. NASA can’t do the testing and design iterations that SpaceX does because SpaceX has a higher flight rate and gets customers and investors, rather than tax payers, to fund it.

    2. What is the purpose of the Gateway supposed to be? There’s vague talk of a deep space testing platform, access to the Moon, etc. But what’s the point of those things without space activity to justify them?

      Reminds me of the “bridge to nowhere” projects where infrastructure is built without consideration for its utility.

      1. Well, the question of purpose involves the history of national goals after Columbia’s breakup. All I can do is offer my own interpretation of what’s gone on.

        After Columbia’s loss, George W Bush announced the Vision for Space Exploration, comprising the Constellation program that used the Orion, the Altair lunar lander, the Ares I (the world’s largest corn dog) that flight tested the 5-segment SRB, and quite importantly, the huge Ares V launch vehicle.

        The Ares V is a key part of the story because it was big, with a 10 meter diameter, and was going to have the capacity to put 414,000 lbs into orbit. That was far greater than Apollo’s roughly 300,000 lbs to LEO or the SLS block II’s 290,000 lbs, and it meant that it so much capability that they could greatly increase the weight of the Orion capsule and the Altair lander relative to their Apollo counterparts. They were also going to send those vehicles up separately, as I recall. So they went with a heavy capsule and lander. The Orion capsule weighs about 75% more than the Apollo command module, and the Altair lander was much larger than a LM.

        But the Ares V used a 10 meter diameter core, whereas all the existing Michoud tooling was for the 8.4 meter diameter Shuttle external tank. It also started out using six RS-68 engines with about 650,000 lbs thrust each at sea level. The core stage on the early early Ares V designs had 2.3 times the thrust of the SLS core. But NASA discovered the RS-68’s wouldn’t be thermally happy next to the SRBs, so they had to switch back to the much more expensive liquid-cooled SSME, which dramatically upped costs, and finally the Ares V was abandoned for the SLS, which retains the Shuttle’s 8.4 meter core diameter and uses fewer and less powerful RS-25 Shuttle engines. The result was a huge drop in capability mentioned in the previous paragraph.

        The proper Kerbal response to shrinking the launcher is to switch to a lighter payload. But Orion was well under way, so they scaled back the mission to what the SLS/Orion combination could still deliver, and that was a flight near the moon, or around the moon, but not to LLO and back. So they’ve got a very big and expensive deep space flight vehicle, the Orion, but no really big launcher that can send it someplace useful. On the other hand, they have a somewhat big launcher but no small flight vehicle that it could send someplace useful, either. They have a mismatch.

        Their combination can still accomplish high lunar orbit missions, or lunar flybys with SLS Block I, but those have the problem that there’s no interesting destination out there floating high around the moon. If only there was some asteroid in a conveniently accessible location that the Orion could rendezvous with… So, they will find a very small asteroid and put it within Orion’s reach. Now if they can bring the asteroid into high lunar orbit they could obviously drop it into a lower Earth orbit with subsequent satellite missions, but that would eliminate the need for SLS/Orion. But the mission was pretty obviously just an excuse to launch and SLS/Orion mission and have an astronaut do a spacewalk to retrieve a rock off an asteroid in the most expensive possible way. Another flaw is that it would only need to be done once (although they said they might want to later grab another bunch of rocks), and thus the mission wouldn’t justify flying more than one Orion/SLS mission.

        It was obvious that they needed a destination that the SLS/Orion could actually reach, and which would require the program to make continuing flights. Perhaps a small space station way out in a halo orbit, within an easy delta V of the asteroid they were going to visit. That station could be packed with enough scientific equipment to justify repeated visits, and of course it could be built in sections that would require SLS cargo launches. Better, if it had a little lab to study the rock samples, there would be a reason the asteroid mission s had to be manned instead of automated.

        So then the asteroid mission got canceled for obvious reasons of looking like makework, and political forces put lunar return back on the table. If NASA stays with Orion, the lunar return mission needs the Ares V, but they didn’t build an Ares V. (They haven’t built an SLS either but they’re working on it). So the only place the vehicle they’re building can reach is the tiny station near the hypothetical asteroid, so lo and behold, the Lunar Gateway is a critical path to lunar return, even though it actually makes lunar return harder, later, and vastly more expensive.

        And that’s why it exists, so far as I can tell. Sure, people can come up with all kinds of things that could be done on the Lunar Gateway, but they could also say it would be an important place to sell soft-serve ice cream. Whenever we decide to build something someplace, everybody can dream up things that could be done there, but are any of those needs or uses compelling? I think the answer here is clearly going to be “no.”

      2. It has several purposes but people who dislike the project usually say it has no purpose. A better approach is to say it can’t achieve its purposes for x, y, z reasons.

        Its main flaw is that it relies on SLS, so will likely never get built.

        1. Well, other than soft-serve ice cream, its only purpose seems to be giving the Orion a reachable place to dock so the crew can transfer to a lightweight vehicle capable of getting to LLO and back, while dragging a lander along with it. They could just leave those vehicles in a more rational high lunar orbit and dock with them directly, though, since no matter how you look at it, they’re going to have to do some docking because the Orion is too heavy to fly simple lunar missions using the SLS.

          None of the other commercial moon plans include anything remotely like the Lunar Gateway. I don’t think anyone has ever suggested such a station as useful adjunct to lunar exploration prior to NASA suggesting it’s “critical” when they had to switch from asteroid-retrieval to lunar-return.

          They’re not using it as a fuel depot. They’re not providing sufficient radiation shielding for solar storms or extended visits. It’s only got an eighth the habitable volume as the ISS, which normally has a crew of three or six. Let me do some quick math.

          INT(1/8 * 6) = 0.

          Suggest crew size as a space station seems to be zero.

          I’ll stick with what I said in the first comment on this thread.

          Although I don’t support actually building the Lunar Gateway, I do support keeping it around as a design concept because it provides so many opportunities for snark and sarcasm.

          I’m not really worried that they’ll actually build it because in the 16 years since the Columbia accident, they haven’t even been able to put a man in low Earth orbit on any new flight vehicle of any kind whatsoever, unless we maybe count the Soyuz TMA-M and later Soyuz MS upgrades as new vehicles. In fact, they’ve added needless delays to commercial attempts to put Americans into orbit on American vehicles.

          Unfortunately, they’ve picked up so many international partners for it that it may take on a life of its own, akin to zombie multi-lateral UN agreements maintained forever in the back rooms of Turtle Bay.

  5. Gateway may be in the process of dying on the installment plan. The Artemis plan cuts it back to just the Power and Propulsion module and some sort of minimal hab that supports crew transfer from Orion to the notional Artemis lander.

    I have previously referred to Gateway as a line shack in space owing to its mingy facilities and low and sporadic projected occupancy rate. The Artemis version of Gateway, I now think, is more accurately described as a locker room in space.

    With a little bit of luck – and once SLS, etc. again prove unable to meet even an early 2021 deadline for the EM-1 mission – the Gateway can be entirely scrapped and a process to do the same to SLS can be initiated.

  6. I told you my proposal for a Gateway. Park a Starship in the desired orbit, fully outfitted and lease it.

    1. Excellent idea.

      One could put it in any lunar or lunar-ish orbit one wished and it could change orbits as required too.

      Much roomier and more comfortable accommodations for even transient occupants too.

      One could even install a special combined airlock and suit-wash to scrub the lunar dust fines off any astronauts coming up from the lunar surface prior to their re-embarkation on another Starship or whatever other vehicle would be returning them to Earth.

      In fact, a pair of Starships, thus equipped, could rotate between service as a lander and as a lunar orbiting station with nothing but occasional propellant replenishment – in orbit from Earth-launched Starship tankers at first, and from lunar ISRU methalox once appropriate infrastructure exists.

      Of course the airlock/suit-wash feature would be just as useful on Mars too. So that would most likely be a standard feature of all BEO crew-carrying Starships.

    2. That is a good idea and I hope that the ignored second track NASA is on with the lunar prospecting missions is far enough along that they can take advantage of Starship and Super Heavy.

      1. What’s even better is you can cycle them out every couple of years. No re-supply necessary. And SpaceX gets some long duration deep space time on their vehicle before you start throwing them at Mars.

  7. Right now we have ISS in orbit, occupied full time with most of the crew spending all their time barely managing to keep the lights on. Is their any evidence that they can build something that can remain functional with only sporadic occupancy? If so, the place to show it would have been in low orbit sometime in the last few years.

    I expect that NASA will claim to have learned everything they need to know. Maybe this time, they’ll avoid ammonia for refrigeration. I’m sure they’ll have robots to do needed repairs. How many robots to repair the robots?

Comments are closed.