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The Sierra Nevada Corporation revealed their prototype Lunar Gateway module prototype today, an inflatable craft that can expand to hundreds of cubic meters of internal living space that designers how can expand NASA's upcoming Lunar Gateway orbital moon station into a full-fledged working space station.
Sierra Nevada Corporation's inflatable lunar gateway module
The Sierra Nevada Corporation, one of six companies to be awarded contracts for prototype modules for NASA's upcoming Lunar Gateway orbital station around the moon, revealed their prototype today, an inflatable spacecraft that can be packed together into just 13 feet of space, but expand to nearly 300 cubic meters of workspace, living space, and an area for astronauts to grow their own food.
The module was built as part of NASA's Lunar Gateway project, which wants to put an orbital station around the moon both for exploring the lunar surface but also as a jumping off point for future missions to Mars. "The Gateway will be our home base for astronaut expeditions on the Moon, and future human missions to Mars," NASA's says on its website. "Even before our first trip to Mars, astronauts will use the Gateway to train for life far away from Earth, and we will use it to practice moving a spaceship in different orbits in deep space.
The prototype was revealed today at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, about a year after Sierra Nevada Corporation was awarded the contract from NASA. "We had some concepts for the inflatable habitat, but actually did the majority of the design after the contract award," John Roth, Vice President of Business Development for Sierra Nevada Corporations's Space Systems, told Interesting Engineering in an emailed statement. "We can be pretty agile as a private company!"
That agility is precisely what NASA is counting on from the six private companies hired to provide prototypes for consideration. Sierra Nevada Corporation had hoped to be in the running to put the first Lunar Gateway module into orbit around the moon, but with US President Donald Trump's renewed push to go to the moon--well, at least to Mars, at any rate--NASA reportedly had to move their time table up to accommodate the new target date for the first module, which is scheduled to be in place by 2024. In order to achieve that target, the first module went to long-time defense and space industry stalwart, Northrop Grumman, back in July.
"We would have really liked chance to compete for that but it is what it is," Steve Lindsey, a former astronaut and current vice president of Space Exploration Systems at Sierra Nevada Corporation, told the Houston Chronicle.