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United Arab Emirates to Build Gateway Airlock

Gateway, with the Notional Landing System, Orion, Cargo Vehicle and Airlock attached.

NASA and the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced Sunday plans for the space centre to provide an airlock for Gateway, humanity’s first space station outside of Low Earth Orbit. The lunar space station, positioned in a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit, will support NASA’s missions for long-term exploration of the Moon under Artemis as part of NASA’s Moon to Mars initiative.

Under a new arrangement expanding their human spaceflight collaboration with NASA through Gateway, MBRSC will provide Gateway’s Crew and Science Airlock module, as well as a UAE astronaut to fly to the lunar space station on a future Artemis mission. “The United States and the United Arab Emirates are marking a historic moment in our nations’ collaboration in space, and the future of human space exploration,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “We are in a new era of exploration through Artemis – strengthened by the peaceful and international exploration of space. The UAE’s provision of the airlock to Gateway will allow astronauts to conduct groundbreaking science in deep space and prepare to one day send humanity to Mars.”

In addition to operating the airlock, MBRSC also will provide engineering support for the life of the lunar space station, currently projected to extend well into the 2030s. The airlock will allow crew and science research transfers to and from the habitable environment of Gateway’s pressurized crew modules to the vacuum of space. These transfers will support additional science in the deep space environment, as well as Gateway maintenance. The contractor for the module has not yet been announced – based on the construction of previous modules, it is likely that Thales Alenia will construct and deliver the module to the MBRSC. 

Gateway’s airlock will enable astronauts to move equipment outside Gateway, as well as perform spacewalks to repair systems.

The original plans for Gateway included a Russian built airlock to be launched either domestically or on NASA’s Space Launch System. Geopolitical tensions, and instability in the Russian space program ultimately saw Russia withdraw from Artemis and the airlock module dropped from Gateway’s plans, presenting mission planners with a logistics challenge for servicing the lunar outpost. The UAE’s contribution to the station ensures that vital science and engineering tasks can be carried out, and provides additional workspace for astronauts onboard.  

This latest cooperation on Gateway builds on NASA’s and UAE’s previous human spaceflight collaboration. In 2019, Hazzaa Almansoori became the first Emirati to fly to space during a short mission to the International Space Station, launching on a Russian Soyuz vehicle. A second Emirati astronaut, Sultan Al Neyadi, launched to the space station in 2023 onboard Crew-6 as part of Expedition 68/69. The UAE and NASA have also collaborated on the HOPE Mars orbiter, the first Middle Eastern orbiter to explore the Red Planet.

In 2020, the United States and UAE were among the original signers of the Artemis Accords, which are an overarching set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations participating in NASA’s 21st century lunar exploration program. The implementation of these Accords however, remains a difficult task to accomplish, with several policymakers in Washington still deciding on how best to enforce the standards outlined in the agreement. 

NASA’s Artemis program represents a diverse and broad coalition of nations in human exploration in deep space, with an emphasis on unilateral and sustainable. In collaboration with the CSA (Canadian Space Agency), ESA (European Space Agency), JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), and now the MBRSC, NASA will return humans to the lunar surface for the first time in 50 years, and develop the technologies necessary to make the next giant leap to Mars. Future Artemis missions may see, with continued cooperation, an Emirati astronaut participating in a landing mission to the Lunar South Pole.

Edited by Scarlet Dominik

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