NASA taps Maxar Technologies to build first part of lunar Gateway

NASA Administrator at KSC, Florida Tech Thursday for announcements

By Emilee Speck - Digital journalist

MELBOURNE, Fla. - NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced Thursday at Florida Institute of Technology the first commercial partner selected to develop and build the first part of a lunar outpost known as the Gateway.

Similar to the International Space Station, the Gateway will serve as a lunar orbiting base for astronauts.

Bridenstine said Colorado-based Maxar Technologies will develop and build the first portion of the Gateway, known as the power and propulsion element, or PPE. The  50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft could launch by the end of 2022, according to NASA's most recent timeline.

Maxar could received up to $375 million for the spacecraft and development. The final amount will be based on performance after 12 months and could be followed by additional contracts for 26-months, 14-months option and two 12-month agreements, according to NASA.

If a one year flight test operated and managed by Maxar is successful, NASA will have the option to buy the spacecraft for Gateway. 

According to Maxar's website, the company plans to create a "new space economy" and has 5,900 employees in 30 locations around the world. The publicly traded company is a merger between DigitalGlobe, SSL and Radiant Solutions.

"Maxar provides vertically integrated capabilities and expertise including satellites, Earth imagery, robotics, geospatial data and analytics to help customers anticipate and address their most complex mission-critical challenges with confidence," according to the company's website.

The Gateway, part of NASA's Artemis program, will eventually be an outpost for astronauts traveling to and from the moon.

Maxar's contract will be the first of many NASA awards as part of the new moon program named for Apollo's twin sister, under which the agency plans to return humans to the lunar surface in five years.

To execute NASA’s plan, the space agency said it will need a spacecraft for the journey from the lunar Gateway to low-lunar orbit, a descent craft to carry humans down to the moon and an ascent spacecraft to return them to the lunar Gateway.

Last week, NASA awarded a combined $45.5 million through Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships contracts to 11 companies that will study and/or develop prototypes for the descent, transfer, and refueling elements for Artemis. Among the companies selected was SSL, a Maxar Technologies company, which will conduct one refueling element study and develop one refueling element prototype.

Next month, the U.S. space agency is expected to put out a call for contractors to develop and build a lunar lander.

President Donald Trump has requested an additional $1.6 billion for NASA's 2020 budget to meet that milestone by 2024. Congress still needs to approve those funds.

Earlier on Thursday at an event at NASA's Kennedy Space Center ahead of the Apollo 11 50th anniversary, Bridenstine blamed political factors as the reason why humans have not returned to the moon.

"The reason that we’re not on the moon right now is because of the whimsical budget from Washington," Bridenstine said.

Florida Tech President Dwayne McCay joined the NASA administrator for the Gateway update Thursday in Melbourne.

Currently, about 500 Florida Tech graduates work at the Kennedy Space Center.

"As a longtime university partner with NASA, we look forward to continuing that relationship and building upon the critical impact Florida Tech's world-class scholarship, research and personnel are already making in space and related fields," a Florida Tech spokesman said about choosing to make this announcement at the university.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

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