Sunday, October 1, 2017

We're going to the Moon. No we aren't. Maybe we are.

This will be confusing. Don't say you weren't warned.

Concept proposals can sure stir up dust and confusion. In the case of NASA's Deep Space Gateway (DSG), that would be lunar dust.

The DSG is a proposed space station at the Moon that could be used as a gateway for deep space activities.

Here's how the events unfolded.

A story from Russian space writer Anatoly Zak said Russia had agreed to join the United States in developing the DSG. (Russia will team up with NASA to build a lunar space station)

Not so fast, said SpaceNews. Russia had agreed to study the idea. They hadn't agreed to build anything. (NASA and Roscosmos to study Deep Space Gateway)

Mr. Zak responded on Twitter to Jeff Foust of SpaceNews with this:

Mr. Zak seems to be saying that there's more to the story than just a study.

Now the media reports start coming thick and fast.

In a CBC News story, comments from NASA and Russian space agency Roscosmos make it sound like these guys didn't sign the same agreement. (U.S., Russia to collaborate on spaceport orbiting moon)

NASA said the agreement is for a concept study. Igor Komarov, head of Roscosmos, said the agreement means they will build the station.

Mr. Komarov is also quoted in a press release from Interfax, a Russian news agency, as saying the agreement is for a study but they will build the station between 2024 and 2026. They'll discuss money in the next round of talks.

Note that the release is in Russian. This explanation is based on Google Translate.

So, does Canada fit into this project?

Yes. The Canadian Space Agency (CSA) could contribute several key parts to the DSG.

Canadian interest in a Moon project is clearly there. The CSA has put out several requests for information and tendered concept studies over the last few months for new technologies that could be used at the Moon.

According to another article by Mr. Zak, CSA engineers are keen on developing a solar sail for the station. (NASA, international partners consider solar sail for Deep Space Gateway)

The solar sail would help the DSG stay in orbit, which would save on hydrazine propellant. NASA is said to like the idea.

The CSA could also provide a pair of robotic arms for the station, as stated in a third CBC News story. (Canadian Space Agency developing robotic arms for moon station)

The article notes that Moon rovers and mining are also possibilities. Gilles Leclerc, the Director-General of Space Exploration at the Canadian Space Agency, is quoted in the article.

Recently, Mr. Leclerc made a comment on Twitter in response to another CBC News article called Are we really headed to the moon?

Is Mr. Leclerc being optimistic or does he know something?

The important thing to remember is that the DSG is a still at the concept stage (translation: no financial commitment). Many a concept has come and gone, never to be heard of again except in the musings of space historians.

To sum up, everyone seems to agree that a concept study was approved for the Deep Space Gateway. Beyond that, though, there's lots of lunar dust kicking up.

Fly me to the moon
Let me play among the stars...

Or maybe not.