Our dreams of conquering the vastness of the universe are taking larger strides. Boeing has released concepts for deep space exploration and transit system in an effort to push NASA’s human space exploration mission. Although they are more focused towards manned missions to Mars, the same systems can be extended to deeper space travels as well. Boeing released images of the two concepts (pictured below) including the Deep Space Gateway and Deep Space Transport vehicle. With these two systems joining forces, we’ll be able to conduct deep space missions by deploying habitats into cislunar orbits (space between earth and moon) and launching exploration missions from them.
What are the concepts?
The Deep Space Gateway is essentially a habitat or a system to house humans and store cargo supporting critical research to help study deep space conditions and travel. It will also work as a docking station, something similar to the International Space Station (ISS). This will enable the Deep Space Transport vehicle or any other transit vehicle to dock and carry out manned missions to Mars. Both the gateway and transport vehicles will be powered by a Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) system until we successfully develop the impossible engine or EmDrive which has taken a step forward in research. The Deep Space Gateway systems won’t be restricted to lunar orbits only. The initial plan is to take over the cislunar orbits in order to launch Mars missions directly. The transport vehicles will be able to sustain living conditions for long space journeys while protecting them from the harsh conditions outside. Once successful, the concept will be extended to other planets and moons in our Solar system, eventually moving on to other systems, as we explore deep space.
NASA has been designing several habitats for different use-case scenarios and environments for space missions. Last year, NASA chose six private corporations to create actual full-scale prototypes for these habitats. This is a part of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Technologies (NextSTEP) program where Boeing is contributing with their gateway and transport systems. These two concepts are also a part of the High Power SEP technology development effort, within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (SMTD).
The other private companies in the NextSTEP program include Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, NanoRocks and Bigelow Aerospace. Every company has taken up different projects in the program pertaining to different areas. The program is being managed by NASA’s Advanced Exploration Systems division (AES) under their Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate. Their objective to build ground prototypes and simulate the concepts. With such a collective effort, it won’t be a surprise if we set foot on Mars in the next few years.