The results of NASA’s 45-day study to map out a path to a return to the moon is still a few weeks away. However, it looks like that both the space agency and industry is looking at the so-called Deep Space Gateway, as it is now being called, as a crucial part of the architecture to get robots and humans back on the lunar surface. John Thornton, the chief executive of a company called Astrobotic, recently penned an op-ed in Space News supporting the DPG concept.

Why would the Deep Space Gateway support lunar operations

The Deep Space Gateway is a small space station in lunar orbit that NASA has been touting as a way to test technologies for the Journey to Mars.

Now that the Trump administration is pushing for a return to the moon, many are seeing the DSG as a kind of way station for missions back to the lunar surface.

The DSG would serve as part of a communications relay for robotic and then human explorers on the lunar surface, Astronauts on the lunar orbiting station would also teleoperate robots as they explore the moon. The lunar station would serve as a gathering place for geological samples from various parts of the moon before they are returned to the Earth. Finally, the Deep Space Gateway would help test In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU) technologies, especially the use of lunar water.

What is Astrobotic?

Astrobotic, like its competitor Moon Express, is developing a line of lunar landers that will take payloads from both government and commercial customers to the lunar surface.

The company already has a number of customers lined up for its Peregrine landing craft. The first mission to the moon is currently scheduled for 2019. The company used to be a competitor in the Google Lunar XPrize but dropped out when it became apparent that its first lunar mission would not be ready on time.

Is the a lunar space station crucial for a return to the moon?

Clearly, as Thornton points out, the DSG would be useful as a place from which to support lunar surface operations. It could serve as a port for a reusable lunar lander on which astronauts could go to the moon’s surface.

The question that arises is when the DSG would deploy in the return to the moon timeline.

Robotic missions launched by Astrobotic, Moon Express, and even NASA will predate the expected deployment of the DSG expected in the mid-2020s. Do the first human footsteps have to await the lunar orbiting station, delaying them to the late 2020s? The question will have to be asked and answered by space policy experts.