October 2nd, 2012 by James Ayre
Anchoring a station and some crew at the Earth-moon L2 “gateway” would offer many benefits; exploring the effects of deep space radiation on life and developing relevant technologies, building on the international ties formed during the life of the ISS, providing quicker logistical and data support to deep space missions, and testing out new technologies.
Currently, using Russian space hardware, is being discussed, “both the Multipurpose Laboratory Module and the Scientific-Power Module are new modules being developed in Russia. Both will add new capabilities to the ISS. A proposal on the table seeks to use a similar Russian-provided Scientific-Power Module in cislunar space as a base of operations for exploration missions.”
Mission planners at NASA have been developing an exploration strategy that would make use of the Lagrange points. “For one, by exploring and working beyond the Earth’s radiation belts, more can be learned about space radiation protection. Additionally, the Lagrange points provide unique perspectives of the moon, sun and Earth. Sojourns to the Earth-moon L2 would take humans farther than they have ever been from Earth.”
“Libration points, also known as Lagrangian points, are places in space where the combined gravitational pull of two large masses roughly balance each other out, allowing spacecraft to essentially ‘park’ there.”
“In the advancement of human spaceflight, missions to the Earth-moon Lagrange points are a great idea,” Dan Lester, from the department of astronomy at the University of Texas in Austin, is quoted as saying in an interview with SPACE.com.
“It would be a pleasant surprise if the plan was for not just a visit, but for a habitat there. The easiest option would be just to send people to those locations on multiple Orion flights…visit and come back. Committing to a habitat there is a bigger deal.”
“Such a habitat builds clearly on the legacy of ISS — both the habitation technology and the potential for international partnerships. Doing something that clearly links back to our huge investment in ISS looks smart. Just sending multiple Orions to L1 or L2 doesn’t do that,” he said.
Potential missions to the Earth-moon L2 point could also support robotic operations on the far side of the moon, leading to the first detailed exploration of “unique geological features like the enormous and ancient South Pole-Aitken Basin,” or allow for the deployment of powerful radio telescopes “in the quiet zone,” said Josh Hopkins, a space exploration architect for Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. in Denver.
The construction of space gateway at a libration point has been described as a “game changer,” and a very feasible one at that. There is no reason that such a mission couldn’t happen before the end of the decade.
It would function as the crucial first step out of low-Earth orbit, and create a testing ground for “operational spaceflight capabilities such as life support, communication, high speed re-entry and radiation protection before more difficult human exploration missions.”
Image Credits: Lockheed Martin; : David A. Kring, LPI-JSC Center for Lunar Science and Exploration; ASa/Ames Research Center
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