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NASA, Roscosmos: We're building a lunar space station!

Can't say where. Can't say when. Can't agree on Mars or Moon as target. But it'll happen!

Crewed deep space exploration is back on the agenda, after NASA and its Russian counterpart Roscosmos announced they will co-operate on efforts to create a cislunar space station.

The joint statement between the two agencies was signed yesterday at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.

The two agencies' first objective is something akin to a spaceport in cislunar space, something already on NASA's wish-list under the Deep Space Gateway project.

NASA's announcement quoted acting administrator Robert Lightfoot as saying the joint statement shows “the gateway concept as an enabler to the kind of exploration architecture that is affordable and sustainable”.

Later in that announcement NASA mentioned Martian exploration, not specifically as an objective of any Roscosmos collaboration, but as an example of the outcomes hoped to flow from current industry engagements around habitation concept evaluations.

Roscosmos filled out some other details in its own release (helpfully translated by Google here).

The Russian agency said the partners will use the International Space Station “as a basis for further space exploration”, and their cooperation will also take in standard-setting, and scientific missions to the moon's orbit and eventually surface.

The key standards identified by Roscosmos related to docking specifications (Russia expects its developments will predominate), “as well as the standards of life support systems”.

Both agencies are keen to tout their heavy-lift rocket development in the agreement. NASA emphasised the many fine qualities of its Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft. Roscosmos said its Proton-M and Angara A5M will be used in parallel.

“After the creation of the Russian superheavy rocket, it will also be used to provide the lunar orbital station,” Roscosmos added.

This document from March fleshed out NASA's expectations for the Deep Space Gateway, which “would have a power bus, a small habitat to extend crew time, docking capability, an airlock, and serviced by logistics modules to enable research”.

High-power electric propulsion systems would both keep the gateway on-station, and let it move between orbits according to mission requirements.

NASA hopes the gateway would provide what private Mars missions cannot: a return path, because Mars-bound craft would launch from outside Earth's gravity, and would return to the gateway for servicing between missions.

The gateway's first full-year crewed mission is pencilled in for the late 2020s. ®

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