Monday, June 8, 2020

Building a Transport and Distribution Hub Literally Out of This World

Logistics at the Heart of Latest NASA Mission
Shipping News Feature

US – INFINITY AND BEYOND – If you thought HALO was just an acronym for a type of parachute activity or the bright ring that hangs above the head of the odd seraphim, think again. The latest use of the phrase is short for Habitation and Logistics Outpost and it's something you are likely to be hearing about for some while from now on.

As outposts go this one is pretty impressive, sitting as it will be deployed in lunar orbit as the first crew module of the NASA Gateway, a small space station orbiting the moon providing vital support for long-term human exploration of the lunar surface and deep space. Whether or not the resident crew will be getting Amazon Prime deliveries remains to be established, but the contract to execute the preliminary design and development of the HALO has just been awarded.

The Northrop Grumman Corporation is the outfit chosen to start work, and subsequently an agreed and modified contract for the fabrication, assembly, and delivery of the HALO module will be issued. The HALO design is derived from Northrop Grumman’s highly successful Cygnus spacecraft, a human-capable vehicle that already delivers supplies, spare equipment and scientific experiments to the International Space Station (ISS), with 13 successful missions under its belt to date.

Time for the ISS would technically be up this year, over two decades after its assembly began, but the plan is to keep it up until between 2024 and 2028. However one day soon over 430 tonnes of equipment, the size of a football field will be heading back to earth, hopefully guided into a remote stretch of ocean, and the scientific hole it is leaving is due to be plugged by NASA’s Gateway project.

The HALO module represents a critical component of Gateway, serving as both a crew habitat and docking hub for cislunar (that’s rocket speak for the bit between earth and moon) spacecraft. HALO will feature three docking ports for visiting spacecraft, including the Orion spacecraft and other lunar support vehicles.

Building from Cygnus’ heritage pressurised cargo module, Northrop Grumman is adding command and control capabilities, including environmental control and life support systems, which, when coupled with NASA’s Orion spacecraft capabilities, can sustain up to four astronauts for up to 30 days as they embark on, and return from, expeditions to the lunar surface.

With the Cygnus production line already set up and live Northrop Grumman says it has the unique capability of providing an affordable and reliable HALO module in the timeframe needed to support NASA’s Artemis program. Steve Krein, vice president, civil and commercial satellites, commented:

“The success of our Cygnus spacecraft and its active production line helps to enable Northrop Grumman to deliver the HALO module. HALO is an essential element in NASA’s long-term exploration of deep-space, and our HALO program team will continue its work in building and delivering this module in partnership with NASA.”

NASA Artemis has the mission to not only return man (and now woman) to the moon, but to create a sustainable partnership between robots and astronauts enabling a vastly expanded scientific exploration portfolio, both on the lunar surface and beyond.

Footnote: President Trump, never slow to jump on a passing bandwagon, got a slapped wrist last week for violating NASA advertising guidelines by using an image of an astronaut’s wife and child as part of his re-election campaign video ‘Make Space Great Again’ which was subsequently pulled from YouTube.