Will NASA really build a 'gateway' L-2 Moon base?

Sep 26, 2012 by Nancy Atkinson, Universe Today
In this artist’s concept, the Orion MPCV is docked to a habitat; an astronaut exits the spacecraft to conduct an EVA. Credit: NASA

Over the weekend, The Orlando Sentinel reported that NASA is considering building a hovering outpost beyond the Moon at L-2 (Lagrangian point 2) that will be a 'gateway' to serve as a point for launching human missions to Mars and asteroids. The buzz among the space-related social medias ranged from "this is the greatest idea ever" to "this is make-work for the Space Launch System, (NASA's new rocket.)" The newspaper's report cited a White House briefing given in September by NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, but said "it's unclear whether it has the administration's support. Of critical importance is the price tag, which would certainly run into the billions of dollars."

As always, money is the real issue with any grand ideas that anyone at NASA may have.

And NASA has now officially responded to the The Sentinel's report and said… well, actually they didn't really say much at all. Here's the NASA statement:

"NASA is executing President Obama's ambitious plan that includes missions around the moon, to asteroids, and ultimately putting humans on Mars. There are many options – and many routes – being discussed on our way to the . In addition to the moon and an , other options may be considered as we look for ways to buy down risk – and make it easier – to get to Mars. We have regular meetings with OMB (Office of Management and Budget), OSTP(Office of Science and Technology) , Congress, and other stakeholders to keep them apprised of our progress on our deep exploration destinations. This concept is a part of the Voyages document that we mentioned in an earlier Update posted on NASA.gov in June: http://go.nasa.gov/NASAvoyages." Refer to page 26 of the chapter titled, "Habitation and Destination Capabilities."

And so NASA does not deny they are looking into building such a base, and in the document mentioned above, they do provide some interesting details about why exploring cis-lunar space would be important: for scientific reasons, for technological and economic growth and to pave the way for future exploration.

Will NASA really build a 'gateway' L-2 Moon base?
Artist’s concept of an inflatable cis-lunar facility, or Lagrange gateway. Credit: NASA

And so, what would a beyond the Moon be like? The Sentinel suggested it could be built in a budget-conscious way using parts left over from the International Space Station and be placed at what's known as the Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, a spot about 38,000 miles beyond the far side of the Moon and 277,000 miles from Earth where the gravitational pull of Earth and the Moon are at equilibrium, so that a spacecraft could basically "hover" in a fixed spot.

In the document, NASA says the habitat they are designing combines technologies to accommodate a crew of at least four, potentially six for a mission to Mars. The in-space version of the habitat will require docking systems for crew transportation vehicles, and it could be used in cis-lunar space as a Lagrange point facility, or in transit to deep-space destinations, or near a NEA.

They call the L-2 Gateway base an "ISS Stepping Stone," saying that the ISS is an invaluable resource for researching and testing exploration capabilities in space, and it may inspire future space station concepts.

"As NASA looks to explore beyond LEO, the agency is considering how a facility in cis-lunar space, potentially stationed at an Earth-Moon Lagrange point, could support research, testing, and astronomical observation, as well as provide a staging point for exploration missions. Such a facility, also known as a Lagrange gateway, would build upon ISS hardware and experience, and would serve as an initial in-space habitat, providing a basis for future long-duration habitation developments."

Could this 'Gateway' idea really fly?

The Sentinel says that from NASA's perspective, the outpost solves several problems.

"It gives purpose to the Orion space capsule and the Space rocket, which are being developed at a cost of about $3 billion annually. It involves NASA's international partners, as blueprints for the outpost suggest using a Russian-built module and components from Italy. And the outpost would represent a baby step toward NASA's ultimate goal: human footprints on Mars."—Orlando Sentinel

The report doesn't mention budget or costs, and if the federal government cuts budgets in the name of deficit reduction, it is very unlikely that NASA will get more money—and it likely could get less – than the current budget of $17.7 billion.

If the past is any indication of the future, this report may wind up like Werner von Braun's 1950's vision of getting humans to Mars: a report that future generations look back on and say, "wish we could have done that, and why can't we do that now?"

Explore further: Testing immune cells on the International Space Station

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Feldagast
4.2 / 5 (5) Sep 26, 2012
Would they just die relatively soon from space radiation?
Blakut
5 / 5 (2) Sep 26, 2012
Well, this is great news. They'll have it ready by 2030...
Lurker2358
3.7 / 5 (10) Sep 26, 2012
Why have an intermediate step at all?

The cost of launching people to that station and then matching velocity (for no apparent reason,) is surely more than a direct launch to Mars.

Just think, every time you wanted to do a manned flight to this thing, it would cost about as much as landing a man on the Moon, which we haven't done in 43 years.

Middle points are totally useless unless you have an off-world fuel source.

It is highly unlikely that any of the NEO objects have enough hydrocarbon or nitrate materials to refine into rocket fuel economically (in the near term anyway,) so this obviously won't be an off-world refueling station.

So what?

It's a pointless waste of energy to decelerate and match speed, then hang out on a space station for a few days, only to accelerate again towards Mars.
Lurker2358
2.1 / 5 (7) Sep 26, 2012
Would they just die relatively soon from space radiation?


No.

Some astronauts have been on the space station for over a year at a time, and some have made multiple trips.

Designing a "mostly radiation proof" habitat was solved decades ago.

More instesting to me is the fact that we don't have 500 volumes of papers on useful experiments done on the existing ISS.

why no low gravity farming experiments? Why no crop seed irradiation exposure experiments at lengths of 1 day, 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, etc. Plant them on Earth in season when you get back and compare to control to see how many live, and how well the survivors produce compared to controls. I'd say do wheat, corn, beans, peanuts, tomatoes, yellow and butternut squash, and maybe one or two other food crops.

Nothing "real" like this has been done. there was an experiment with some tree seeds a long time ago, but they ended up losing track of some of the trees, and it wasn't as scientific as this.
Lurker2358
1.6 / 5 (8) Sep 26, 2012
Negative me, idiot.

You're too damn stupid to realize that slowing down costs energy, because you have to burn your rockets to slow down. It's not like hitting the brakes on EArth (besides, even on earth re-accelerating costs you money for unnecessary stops).

All stops are a waste of fuel, unless there is a specific logistical advantage, which since fuel is the most expensive part of space flight, the only thing that could possibly pay for stopping would be an off-world fuel supply, WHICH THEY DON'T HAVE AND WON'T HAVE ANY TIME SOON.

So it a waste.

If you don't think so, take a basic science class.

I have no clue why the geniuses at NASA think this is somehow economical, because it's not physically possible for it to be economical.
baudrunner
2 / 5 (4) Sep 26, 2012
They will have to do something like this sooner or later, if they want persistent communications capability for the moon's far side. I suggest building a moon base near the artifact discovered by Apollo 15 command module pilot Al Worden in July of 1971, while photographing the far side. The image can be found on the Lunar And Planetary Society's website and is labeled AS15-P-9625: http://www.lpi.us...5-P-9625 (pan to the right) There should be a wealth of information there.
Osiris1
3 / 5 (6) Sep 26, 2012
These guys will be up there for a long time. Better to build a rotating ring structure, a large one, out of those inflatables. Make its central hub the solid 'leftover ISS' parts, airlocks, observation ports, docking ports, CANADArm bases, and stuff. Hang solar panels around the inflatable habitat/lab modules so as to provide shade from solar and some radiation and small space debris protection/deflection. Not much more expensive, but a whole lot more survivable and useful for larger crews/constructors. A separate space frame with a beam/tunnel connector could link to a large space frame construction bay for system ship construction. Maybe lunar rogolith could be mined for metals with robo miners and processed in robo factories to be shipped by space elevator to the construction site in space..lunar space elevator.
Osiris1
1 / 5 (3) Sep 26, 2012
Baudrunner, there appears to be a slab of rock or whatever laying in a pit about 55% of the way to the right on the foto. Is that your artifact, and what do you think it is.
Sorenos
5 / 5 (2) Sep 26, 2012
Lurker:
Looking at the NASA report, it doesn't seem like they intend to go on missions from earth to L2 to mars and then back. The 'stepping stone' part is used in this context:
"A facility at an Earth-Moon Lagrange point provides a stepping stone for certifying technologies and staging future deep-space exploration missions while building experience and confidence in radiation countermeasures, high-reliability ECLSS, telerobotics, and more."
They later suggest that the L2 point could be used as a 'repair shop' for interplanetary travelers, which makes more sense, since landing would probably require more fuel.

In any case, it doesn't seem very useful. Personally I don't think humanity are really going to space before we have nuclear rockets and pre-made robot settlements.
VendicarD
1.6 / 5 (7) Sep 26, 2012
America is bankrupt. NASA won't exist in 5 years.
Phil DePayne
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 26, 2012
Great news. That would make a perfect starbase to dock the USS Enterprise. Link-->>>
http://phys.org/n...ars.html
verkle
2.2 / 5 (5) Sep 26, 2012
Why park at L2, rather than L4 or L5?
Much better views of and better communication with earth at those points.
Sorenos
5 / 5 (1) Sep 26, 2012
verkle:
These seems to be the arguments given from the report:
"Exploring at Lagrange points could provide unique perspectives of the Moon, Sun, and Earth. The Lagrange point on the far side of the Earth-Moon system, called Earth-Moon L2 (EM L2), provides a "radio silence" zone for astronomical observations. Journeys to EM L2 would take humans farther than they have ever been from Earth."

But I guess they will have to put a space-router in moon orbit, L4 or L5, so there's still some contact with Earth.
Argiod
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2012
I have a wild idea: Why not attach one or more warehouse size storage modules to the International Space station, add suitable ion rockets and maneuvering engines. Load it up with supplies and take it out to Mars orbit. It can be supplied with regular shipments via DragonX. If a Mars Surface Explorer is sent with it, along with some sort of reusable shuttle, they could explore the surface selectively, and live in the space sation until the ground facillities are fully established. A continued presense in the space station could serve as the inter-planetary docking port for shipments and personell from Earth, and launching platform for anything sent back to Earth... like, maybe astronauts rotating home.
cdt
5 / 5 (2) Sep 27, 2012
The L2 spot will work better as a mid-way stopover point once they develop regenerative breaking in space. I'm sure someone will solve that problem within the next 100 years.
ShotmanMaslo
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2012
Some astronauts have been on the space station for over a year at a time, and some have made multiple trips. Designing a "mostly radiation proof" habitat was solved decades ago.


Nope, cosmic rays are the main radiation threat for deep space missions that leave Earths magnetosphere, and these are hard to shield agaisnt. ISS does not have this problem.
jhumkey
1 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2012
Would they just die relatively soon from space radiation?


No.

Some astronauts have been on the space station for over a year at a time, and some have made multiple trips.

Designing a "mostly radiation proof" habitat was solved decades ago.


Actually (I'm no expert, but, remembering some previous articles and some quick googling, and I think you're "partially" right, but for the wrong reason.)

We have NOT figured out how to build a radiation proof shielded space station . . . I believe the ISS (and Mir and Skylab before) though above the normal atmosphere, are still WITHIN the Earth's protective magnetic field, and THAT shields them as it does us on the ground. (I was surprised) Apparently L1 and L2, are also within the normal Earth Magnetic protective field, and that protects them, not anything special about our knowledge or skills in space station design. Beyond L2 (like on a trip to Mars) we must still pray no large solar flares occur during the transit.
baudrunner
2 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2012
Osiris1: Use Ctrl-Plus to zoom into the image. If you still see a "slab of rock" then you are either in denial or you have terrible vision.
Blakut
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2012
A cool experiment they should do on the ISS would be space surgery!
yyz
3.7 / 5 (3) Sep 27, 2012
@baudrunner:

Have you examined this area using higher res LRO LROC imagery? Your "artifact" seems to be covered with dozens of craters (a couple of the larger ones have boulder fields in them) and appears similar to the nearby cratered lunar terrain. Have a look at the LROC data: http://target.lro...map.html

(The feature is located at lat -18.70580 lon 117.67650)
christ_jan
5 / 5 (4) Sep 27, 2012
I think they are making one mistake.
Why send humans for deep space exploration? Would it not be more efficient and cheaper to just go fully robotic? Set up a communication network of nodes that can communicate with light and radio waves(redundant and secure). Then you can control the robots back on earth, for example a mining operation.
After we explored with robots more than it will be cheaper and more efficient to send humans along as by that time we probably discovered new things such as alloys that can protect us from radiation, better drives, food farming techniques that dont require us to be on earth etc. Those things can be engineered back on earth and with robots in space mining and exploring and even manufacturing.
NOM
5 / 5 (1) Sep 27, 2012
Apparently L1 and L2, are also within the normal Earth Magnetic protective field

@jhumkey
Care to provide a reference for this?
Lex Talonis
1 / 5 (5) Oct 01, 2012
Jesus said that he could go to Marrs and he is already up there in low earth orbit - in space station Heavenly Kingdom.

But no one ever asks him for nothing.

Sigh.
Jeddy_Mctedder
1 / 5 (4) Oct 01, 2012
the ONLY futuristic solution to space travel that CURRENTLY makes sense isn't going to happen for decades if ever.

a system where the fuel source for accelerating the vehicle up to speed and then down to speed is a proton beam directed at 'pushing' the vehicle , theoretically having one at the starting point and one at the destination.

remove fuel and massive thrusters from the equation and you have just dropped MOST of the weight of your vehicle and freed it from the burden of running out of fuel. ion beam machines that can be replenished with mass and energy sourced from permanent infrastructure will be hundreds of times more energy effective and reliable at providing propulsion than any on board system that isn't some warp drive science fiction nonsense.

the only reason to use lagrangian points is as way stations and parking spots. this article is BUNK and STUPID even from the impractical perspective that takes these ideas seriously. and like the guy above said, 2030. great.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2012
Would it not be more efficient and cheaper to just go fully robotic?

It probably would. But such endeavours are long term and need to be funded (i.e. there has to be some backing within the population to spend taxes on space exploration).

The reason for this funding cannot - for lack of short term returns - come from economic considerations. So it must come through the guise of things that inspire and grip the imagination. Robots just don't do that the way a real human presence does.

Anyhow: Sooner or later we'll have to make the jump to some other celestial body or just into habitats situated in space (in one form or another) if our species is to survive. It's something we can't (and shouldn't) put off indefinitely.

The sooner we learn as much about that as we can the better.
cdt
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2012

Anyhow: Sooner or later we'll have to make the jump to some other celestial body or just into habitats situated in space (in one form or another) if our species is to survive. It's something we can't (and shouldn't) put off indefinitely.

The sooner we learn as much about that as we can the better.


Antialias, I know you're right that we will ultimately need to head out into space to survive as a species, but if the time scale is short enough to make this even a little bit pressing, then I'd say we're not likely to survive any better in space than we have here on earth. Don't get me wrong -- I love space exploration and hope we make significant strides toward living somewhere off of the earth before I die. I just hope we don't have to do it in that time frame to ensure our survival.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2012
I love space exploration and hope we make significant strides toward living somewhere off of the earth before I die

Unless you're very young and plan to live well beyond 100 years of age: don't hold your breath on that one.

I just hope we don't have to do it in that time frame to ensure our survival.

The problem with the timeframe is: we don't know how long we've got before we must make the leap (i.e. before the large killer asteroid hits us. Not 'if' - WHEN)

As Pratchett so succinctly put in his next novel after Shoemaker-Levy 9:
"The gods of the discworld have often heard the story of a race of people who lived on a blue world in the shape of a sphere, and how they watched massive asteroids slam into a neighboring planet, and then did NOTHING ABOUT IT because that sort of thing only happens in outer space"

Meyer
not rated yet Oct 01, 2012
So it must come through the guise of things that inspire and grip the imagination. Robots just don't do that the way a real human presence does.

To me it seems the roadblock is that every mission is a one-off thing that doesn't benefit from economies of scale. And there are other ways to grip the public's imagination. Instead of living vicariously through a few astronaut icons, the public could actually take part in the mission.

Suppose NASA were to land 1,000 smaller/cheaper rovers around the planet, and build a platform for the public to submit our own mini-missions to tell the rovers which pictures to take, where to dig, where to go, etc. Auction off this rover time to pay for some or all of the greater mission while generating a lot of useful data and a detailed "street view" map to explore. (Give away some time by lottery for those without thousands of dollars to spend.) If some of the rovers "die", it won't be a tragedy that deters future exploration.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Oct 01, 2012
To me it seems the roadblock is that every mission is a one-off thing that doesn't benefit from economies of scale.

Then the L2 base should be exactly what you are looking for. And there has been economics of scale. The various ariane rockets and the proton launchers. Space, however, remains an expensive place to go - and that isn't going to change any time soon - even with the most massive economics of scale.

Suppose NASA were to land 1,000 smaller/cheaper rovers around the planet, and build a platform for the public to submit our own mini-missionsp

We'd get rovers driving penis shapes on the sand.

Seriously: This stuff is expensive. Let's do a little great science instead of a lot of mediocre science (or none at all). Let the best minds do what they're good at.
Meyer
not rated yet Oct 01, 2012
We'd get rovers driving penis shapes on the sand.

Seriously: This stuff is expensive. Let's do a little great science instead of a lot of mediocre science (or none at all). Let the best minds do what they're good at.

You're referring to this? http://i303.photo...acks.jpg
"Been there, done that."

People would bid their own money for a few minutes on Mars. If that's how someone wants to spend it, so what? Or NASA could just reject any offensive submissions. That's not a show stopper.

You suggested that sending humans (likely to their death) was to grip the public's imagination, not to do great science. There is plenty more science that can be done with robots and $billions. I just offered another, possibly better way to attract the public's interest and money while gathering a host of data.

You must admit, Street View on Mars would be fun and have plenty of scientific merit. Maybe Google will do it first and rent their data to NASA.

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