On March 5, the International Space Station (ISS) Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB) met and affirmed their support for the U.S. led Lunar Gateway program.
The meeting came just a week after Canada formally announced its support of the NASA led Lunar Gateway program. The ISS MCB issued a joint statement at the conclusion of the meeting and is available below.
The statement, along with the release of NASA’s fiscal year 2020 budget request this week, indicates a growing consensus and momentum by the ISS partners to press forward with plans to build a Lunar Gateway.
NASA for its part must still get Congressional support for its budget and the Lunar Gateway program. Congress is expected to provide short term support for the Lunar Gateway program but questions remain with respect to funding in the longer term.
Notably, NASA’s expensive Space Launch System (SLS) is behind schedule and is facing increased scrutiny by some member of Congress. The SLS includes the Orion spacecraft currently projected as the means of reaching the Lunar Gateway.
The ISS MCB representatives includes the Canadian Space Agency, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency, the Government of Japan’s Ministry for Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the State Space Corporation Roscosmos (Russia).
The European Space Agency (ESA) published its own statement which included this comment from David Parker, ESA’s human and robotic exploration director, “we are getting ready, together, to send humans farther into the Solar System than ever before. The lunar Gateway is the next big step in human exploration and we are working to make Europe a part of it.”
ESA is considering contributing “the ESPRIT module to provide communications and refueling of the Gateway and a science airlock for deploying science payloads and cubesats.” As well they are also studying their “involvement in the international habitation module working with the international partners.”
A commitment by ESA could come this fall at the Space19+ Conference in November 2019.
International Space Station Multilateral Coordination Board Statement
The International Space Station (ISS) Multilateral Coordination Board (MCB), which oversees the management of the ISS, met on March 5, 2019. Its membersFootnote 1 acknowledged the recent 20th anniversary of the launch of the first ISS module and celebrated the success of the ISS partnership. This international team has not only built the space station and risen to the challenges of its day-to-day dynamic operation, but – most importantly – delivered tangible benefits to humanity.
Important outcomes of the ISS include both new scientific knowledge and technical innovation. These advancements address sustainable development here on Earth and help preparations to extend human presence further into our Solar System. The MCB highlighted the fact that more than 100 countries have now used the space station for research or education. Furthermore, representatives noted with satisfaction that the ISS is nurturing a growing economy in Low Earth Orbit research, business and services.
Looking beyond the ISS, the MCB recalled the historic achievement almost fifty years ago of the first human landing on the Moon. It reviewed the extensive work carried out by the ISS partners to study concepts for extending human exploration to the Moon and subsequently to Mars. Emphasising the importance of affordable and sustainable exploration, the MCB discussed their common interest in deploying a human outpost in the lunar vicinity as the next step. Known as the Gateway, it will serve as a way station one thousand times more distant from Earth than today’s ISS, to support exploration of the lunar surface.
Within a broader open architecture for human lunar exploration, the MCB acknowledged the Gateway as a critical next step. The Gateway will support human and robotic access to the lunar surface, and build invaluable experience needed for the challenges of later human missions to Mars. The unique location of the Gateway will offer a platform for important scientific discovery in a deep space environment very different from that of the ISS and enable lunar surface exploration. Its special orbit will also provide excellent visibility of both the Earth and the Moon’s surface for communications relay purposes. It will stimulate the development of advanced technologies, expand the emerging space economy, and continue to leverage the societal benefits of space exploration for citizens on Earth. Gateway will ultimately enable international and commercial partners to participate in human exploration, research and technology development and will be foundational for establishing a sustained human presence around and on the Moon.
Following several years of extensive study among the agencies culminating in a successful technical assessment, the MCB endorsed plans to continue the Gateway development. It welcomed each agency’s intention to proceed toward their respective stakeholders’ approval and funding processes for providing specific elements, modules, and capabilities to the Gateway and associated benefits based on a common concept (see Graphic).
The MCB welcomed with enthusiasm Canada’s announcement on February 28, 2019, that it would participate in the Gateway and contribute advanced robotics, making the Canadian Space Agency the first partner agency to join NASA in the Gateway.
Finally, recalling the ambition and far-sighted decisions that led to the success of both Apollo and the ISS, MCB members affirmed their common hope that the Gateway should secure new achievements in the field of space exploration, serve as the next step on a sustainable path to the Moon and beyond, and inspire the next generation as a future success of international cooperation in science and technology.