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Mission planners at NASA and ESA's Operations Centre (ESOC) have spent months debating the pros and cons of different orbits, and have now decided on the path of the Lunar Gateway.
Like the International Space Station, the Gateway will be a permanent and changeable human outpost. Instead of circling our planet however, it will orbit the moon, acting as a base for astronauts and robots exploring the lunar surface.
Mountain - Refuge - Shelter - Place - Stock
Like a mountain refuge, it will also provide shelter and a place to stock up on supplies for astronauts en route to more distant destinations, as well as providing a place to relay communications and a laboratory for scientific research.
Mission analysis teams at ESOC are continuing to work closely with international partners to understand how this choice of orbit affects vital aspects of the mission—including landing, rendezvous with future spacecraft and contingency scenarios needed to keep people and infrastructure safe.
Gateway - Halo - Orbit - NRHO
The Gateway, it has recently been decided, will follow a near-rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO.
Instead of orbiting around the moon in a low lunar orbit like Apollo, the Gateway will follow a highly 'eccentric' path. At is closest, it will pass 3000 km from the lunar surface and at its furthest, 70 000 km. The orbit will actually rotate together with the moon, and as seen from the Earth will appear a little like a lunar halo.
Orbits - Interplay - Earth - Moon - Forces
Orbits like this are possible because of the interplay between the Earth and moon's gravitational forces. As the two large bodies dance through space, a smaller object can be 'caught' in a variety of stable or near-stable positions in relation to the orbiting masses, also known as libration or Lagrange points.
Such locations are perfect for planning long-term missions, and to some extent dictate the design of the spacecraft, what it can carry to and from orbit, and how...
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