The Lunar Gateway Will be in a “Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit”

Universe Today | 7/16/1969 | Staff
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After months of discussion, the space agencies behind the Lunar Gateway have decided how the space station will orbit the Moon. NASA and the ESA are developing the Lunar Gateway jointly, and the orbital path that it will follow around the Moon is a key part of mission design. It’ll affect all the vital aspects of the mission, including how spacecraft will rendezvous and land at the station.

NASA and the ESA have decided on what’s called a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO.) That means the Gateway will follow an eccentric orbit around the Moon. Sometimes, it’ll be as close as 3,000 km to the lunar surface, and other times it’ll be 7,000 km away.

Orbit - Gateway - Thing - Markus - Landgraf

“Finding a lunar orbit for the gateway is no trivial thing,” said Markus Landgraf, Architecture Analyst working with ESA’s Human and Robotic Exploration activities, in a press release.

The Lunar Gateway orbit will rotate together with the Moon. It’s called a halo orbit, because as seen from the Earth, it looks like a halo around the Moon.

Gateway - NRHO - Cycle - Days - Approach

The Gateway’s NRHO is a seven-day cycle. Each seven days it will make its closest approach to the Moon. That means that each seven days there’s a window for launching from the station to the lunar surface, and also a window for returning to the station.

The NRHO makes use of gravitationally balanced points that exist in the Solar System. Due to the interplay between the Earth and the Moon’s gravity, the Lunar Gateway can sit in this halo orbit, almost like it’s caught trapped by the gravity of the two bodies.

Stability - Points - Space - Missions - Gateway

The stability of these points in space is ideal for long-term missions like the Gateway. It’s not perfect, because over time it’ll become unstable. But it won’t take much energy to correct it.

“If you want to stay there for several years, the near...
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