NASA and ESA take a close look at Europe's International Habitation Module

Astronauts clamber around a mock-up, launch of the real thing is only 4 years away

ESA and NASA astronauts are taking the opportunity to clamber around a mock-up of the Lunar I-Hab, a European habitat intended to form part of the Gateway in 2028.

The astronauts, alongside representatives of Thales Alenia Space, were tasked with evaluating the module's ergonomics and habitability as part of a milestone dubbed Human-in-the-Loop (HITL).

esa gateway model

ESA's rendering of its Gateway orbiting lab concept ... Credit: K. Lochtenberg. Click to enlarge

Getting representatives of people who will actually be using the module involved in its design has a long history, going back to the days of Apollo and earlier. For example, the Lunar Module was originally supposed to have a circular forward hatch, but tests on a mock-up of the module led to a change request that resulted in the familiar trapezoid hatch.

The main goal of the tests in the full-scale mock-up of the module cabin was to assess accessibility and maneuverability within the module. The next step will be the System Critical Design Review, a milestone that marks the beginning of assembly and integration of the module. The mock-up will continue to be used and upgraded to improve its fidelity and simulate more complex operations.

However, it won't be able to simulate operations in weightlessness, hence the usefulness of input from veteran astronauts such as ESA's Luca Parmitano and NASA's Stanley G Love.

According to ESA: "Their extensive experience from previous missions on the International Space Station brought invaluable feedback, helping Thales Alenia Space programme representatives understand how to organise the habitat to support life and operations inside Lunar I-Hab."

Rosemary Coogan and Marcus Wandt, representatives of ESA's next generation of astronauts, were also present. Wandt was launched to the International Space Station on the Axiom-3 mission earlier in 2024.

The finished module is expected to be delivered as part of the Artemis IV mission in 2028. As well as living quarters for astronauts in lunar orbit, it will also provide a pair of docking ports for visiting vehicles and another two ports for attaching Gateway elements.

The current plan calls for it to be launched with an Orion spacecraft on NASA's SLS. In a maneuver familiar to Apollo fans, the Orion spacecraft will detach from the stack once on the way to the Moon, rotate, and extract the I-Hab from the SLS Exploration Upper Stage (EUS.) ®

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