Scientists are already working out how to make the most out of NASA’s proposed lunar space station, looking at exciting experiments this outpost could afford.
One criticism of the International Space Station (ISS) was that, after construction began in 1998, it took more than a decade for its scientific potential to be realized.
The ISS is due to be deorbited no sooner than 2024, and in its place, NASA is hoping to build a space station in orbit near the Moon in the late 2020s called the Deep Space Gateway (DSG).
To ensure there isn’t a similar hiatus between launch and research, scientists from NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) met this week on December 5 and 6 in Noordwijk, the Netherlands, to come up with a “wish list” of experiments.
Some examples include a meteoroid-experiment monitor, according to Nature, “which would study the drifting interstellar dust that never reaches Earth owing to the planet's magnetic field.”
Another experiment would be a low-frequency radio observatory, picking up radiation from the dawn of the universe between 400,000 and 100 million years after the Big Bang, something that’s challenging on Earth due to our ionosphere.
There are also suggestions that the station could be used to test new long-lasting filters made of nanometer-thick carbon membranes, or find a way to use the Sun’s rays to produce hydrogen and oxygen for use in microgravity.
It’s also been touted that this station could be used for sorties to the Moon, either human or robotic. If the latter, astronauts on the station could control rovers on the Moon in real time.
The exact details of the DSG have not yet been worked out, but progress is being made. In September, the US and Russia signed an agreement to work on the project together, while Japan and other nations have already expressed an interest.
At the moment the idea is still a concept, but the broad idea is to have some sort of modular station in lunar orbit, which can be visited by the Orion spacecraft. This can be used for deep space research, in addition to missions to the Moon and possibly Mars.
NASA has tentatively earmarked the second launch of its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to launch the first component of the DSG. Called Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2), this mission in the mid-2020s may launch a crewed Orion spacecraft with the first piece of the DSG, the Power Propulsion Element (PPE).
Hopefully, when or if the DSG does get up and running, we’ll be ready and waiting to start performing some of the unique scientific research it will afford.