NASA has chosen satellite manufacturer Maxar Technologies to build the very first piece of the lunar Gateway — a new space station the agency wants to create in orbit around the Moon. The Gateway is meant to serve as a future outpost for astronauts in NASA’s newly minted Artemis lunar program. From this station, astronauts will travel in landers down to the Moon’s surface, and then journey back up to the Gateway before heading home.
Maxar will be making what is known as the power and propulsion element of the Gateway. This is a key module needed to keep the station afloat. It will be equipped with solar panels to provide electricity for the entirety of the Gateway, and it will also provide critical communication capabilities between the station and Earth. On top of that, the module has its own thrusters that can be used to maintain the Gateway’s position in orbit around the Moon or move the Gateway to different types of lunar orbits if needed.
THIS IS A KEY MODULE NEEDED TO KEEP THE STATION AFLOAT
And NASA is going electric with this module. Rather than rely on combusting chemicals to push the vehicle around, the Gateway’s thrusters will move the space station using electric energy generated by the solar panels. Electricity will charge up gas inside the thrusters, and then a magnetic field is used to push all that excited gas out of the back end of the spacecraft, moving the vehicle forward. Known as solar electric propulsion, the technique requires about 10 times less propellant than a traditional thruster would need, according to NASA. That helps to save on weight, which is helpful, since getting heavy chemicals off of Earth takes a lot of energy (and money).
this article originally appeared on Verge.com
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