Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations for NASA, Bill Gerstenmaier, released details about a new plan for deep space travel. This plan is still being debated by the Human Exploration and Operations Committee under the NASA Advisory Council, however if approved, this would be the next step for NASA to send Humans back into space. The outline lays out three long-term goals:
1. To expand permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and to do so, where practical, in a manner involving international, academic, and industry partners.
2. Crewed missions and progress toward achieving the goal of point 1, to enable the potential for subsequent human exploration and the extension of human presence throughout the solar system.
3. To enable capability to extend human presence, including potential human habitation on another celestial body and thriving space economy in the 21st Century.
Note that none of these three goals have Mars in them, which is great to hear! Making Mars the final destination focuses the technology and mission development too much. Designing a system that allows for flexibility for various kinds of deep space missions beyond just Mars is the best route to take to ensure longevity of humans in space. The three phases currently outlined by Bill Gerstenmaier are as follows:
Phase 0: Leverage the ISS as a test bed to demonstrate key exploration capabilities and operations, and foster an emerging commercial space industry in LEO.
Phase 1: Cislunar Demonstration of Exploration Systems (Deep Space Gateway)
Phase 2: Cislunar Validation of Exploration Systems (Deep Space Transport)
Phase one development focuses on the Deep Space Gateway (DSG) provides ability to support multiple NASA, U.S. commercial, and international partner objectives in Phase 1 and beyond. The gateway is designed for deep space environments to support a crew of 4 for up to 42 days, supports deep space transport, and open trade for compatibility for operations in low lunar orbit. Emphasis needs to be defined with the DSG power propulsion, DSG habit design, airlock design, and logistics strategy. The DSG will translate un-crewed between cislunar (cislunar is space between earth and the moon, DSG essentially a space station for the moon) orbits and have the ability to support lunar surface missions. The launch plan for phase one is pictured below.
The development of the DSG will lead to phase two, the development of Deep Space Transportation (DST). DST will provide habitation and transportation needs for transporting crew into deep space including supporting human Mars-class missions. Reusability of the transport will last 3 Mars-class missions with resupply and minimal maintenance. The DST will hold a crew of 4 for 1,000 day-class missions in deep space. By 2029, the DST will be supported by a mix of logistics flights for both shakedown and transit, with the ability to support science objectives in cislunar space. The DST will be a transport vehicle from cislunar space docked at the DSG and will be able to transport where ever is desired, including Mars. The launch plan for Phase to is pictured below.
The unfortunate part of this news release is the funding behind these missions are unknown. Will NASA be able to get congress to support these mission with an expanded budget? Or will NASA have to make room in it's own budget to make DSG and DST come to fruition.