Gateway: How missions will be more daring and dangerous on lunar orbital station

Life on the station would include using a transport vehicle to land on the lunar surface, with an Emirati astronaut expected to blast off to the Moon within the next decade

An illustration of the Lunar Gateway station show the Emirates Airlock, which is being created by UAE manufacturers. Photo: Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre
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An Emirati astronaut is expected to blast off to the Moon in the next decade, helping to place the first Arab in lunar orbit.

The astronaut would be living on Gateway, a planned station in the Moon’s orbit that would host crew before they descend on to the lunar surface.

It would offer a considerably different view than from the International Space Station (ISS), which is placed in low Earth orbit and from where the Moon is visible only from afar.

The Gateway, which is currently being developed on ground before assembly in space can begin, would be the first space station to be placed in lunar orbit.

The UAE to send its first astronaut to the Moon's orbit

The UAE to send its first astronaut to the Moon's orbit

The Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre will help supply a crucial part of the structure – an airlock, a module that is used by crew and cargo to enter and exit the station, allowing astronauts to perform spacewalks.

In exchange, the UAE can send an Emirati to the Gateway.

Nasa is overseeing the project and space agencies contributing various modules to the station include those from Japan, Canada and Europe.

With the landmark deal now signed, The National looks at what a crewed mission on the international outpost would look like.

Training for the station

Astronauts assigned to the Gateway will first have to undergo training to carry out their mission.

Hazza Al Mansouri, the UAE’s first astronaut in space, on Monday told a conference in Oman that astronauts would receive training for the airlock.

“We're working to train astronauts and in future we will host astronauts from all around the world to train in the UAE for that airlock,” he said.

They would also need to be trained in operating Orion, the spacecraft the astronauts would use to travel to the Moon and dock with the station.

Astronauts would need to learn the technical systems of the Gateway, like they do on the ISS.

If a crew member is assigned to use a landing module, which SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing, to descend to the lunar surface, they would also need training in walking on the Moon.

A separate deal would need to be signed by the UAE to send one of its astronauts to the surface.

More dangerous than the ISS

Life on the Gateway would be different to the ISS, as the crew would be much further away from Earth, making rescue missions more difficult if things go wrong.

Because of the station's position in space, the crew would also be exposed to more harmful solar and cosmic radiation than aboard the ISS.

"Gateway will operate in a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon, far from Earth’s protective atmosphere and magnetic fields that largely shield humans, including astronauts living on the International Space Station in low-Earth orbit, from space weather and radiation," Nasa said.

Missions on the ISS last up to six months per assignment and the station has been occupied continuously since it became operational in 2000.

But missions on the Gateway would last three months and robotic operations can take over when there is no human present, according to the Canadian Space Agency.

"As an artificial intelligence-based robotic system, Canadarm3 will be able to tend to the Gateway when no humans are on board, including operating science experiments aboard the lunar outpost," the agency said.

What would the Emirati astronaut do on the station?

Four crew members can live on the Gateway to carry out missions.

Two of them can descend to the Moon's surface, with the other two monitoring the station's health and their colleagues' activities.

There are several scientific investigations that the crew can do, in which the Emirati astronaut could be involved.

"The small space station will include docking ports for a variety of visiting spacecraft, space for crew to live and work, and additional science investigations to study human health and life sciences, among other areas," said Nasa.

"Gateway will be a critical platform for developing technology and capabilities to support future Moon and Mars exploration."

Which Emirati would be selected for the mission?

Salem Al Marri, director general of MBRSC, told The National in an interview on Sunday they were focusing on the operational aspect of the project before beginning the astronaut selection process.

"We have four astronauts and all of them will be trained," he said.

"But this is not something that we can decide at this stage and as we get closer, and we start getting into the operational elements, than we get into mission selection."

The UAE's astronaut corps comprises Hazza Al Mansouri, the first Emirati in space, and Sultan Al Neyadi, the first Arab astronaut to go on an extended space mission and to perform a spacewalk.

Nora Al Matrooshi, the first Emirati woman to be selected as an astronaut, and Mohammed Al Mulla are set to graduate from a Nasa training programme in Houston, Texas, and will then become eligible for missions.

Updated: January 09, 2024, 9:46 AM