Is the deep space gateway in the right place?

Matjaz Vidmar*, Maureen Cohen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

Abstract / Description of output

NASA's plans for a Lunar Orbital Platform - Gateway (LOP-G), also known as “Deep Space Gateway” (DSD) in cis-lunar orbit have attracted a lot of attention across the industry over the past few years. However, its ever-changing conception from a staging-post for human missions to Mars, to a facilitating architecture for a renewed presence on the lunar surface, and the increasing uncertainty over the project's funding, have perhaps detracted from a far more critical question: is it in the right place? In spite of the Moon-Mars destination dilemma, we should nevertheless note the significant advantage in that the proposed LOP-G is positioned outside Earth's gravity well, and thus a good place for manufacturing spacecraft for ongoing interplanetary missions. However, the proposed location in orbit around the Moon also introduces a series of issues, for instance the long transfer time and (related) astronaut-return safety concerns. Another, more fundamental issue, however, is that the proposals do not take advantage of the traditional and highly successful Earth-centric space businesses (satellite communications and potentially space tourism) as a possible source of funding and logistics support. It would seem therefore that consideration should be given to additional potential locations for a LOP-G-type station, in particular in or near Earth's geostationary orbit (GEO). This would be 100 times farther out in space than the International Space Station (ISS) in the low-Earth orbit (LEO), but would benefit from being near the edge of Earth's gravity well, whilst usefully closer to the surface of the Earth and GEO-located assets. GEO would provide an equally good start point for future Moon landings as the energy requirements for such a mission would not differ much between the two potential locations. By encouraging the development of commercial partners who would find a logistical train between LEO and GEO to be advantageous for their existing businesses, would also help underwrite the capability to the advantage of the proposed governmental operators (and their limited budgets). Such a “Gateway Earth” station could be a far more realistic prospect, as it combines maximum utility with favourable business conditions for a public-private partnership. This solution is also far more in tune with the concerns about the democratisation of access to space, as well as issues surrounding the sustainability of the future space exploration and utilisation architectures, in particular, since it offers benefits in attempting to deal with some of the challenges of space debris. This paper analyses some of the key premises of the LOP-G and the Gateway Earth proposals, and puts forward a new, more holistic, vision of the future space access architecture through space stations beyond LEO.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of IAC
Publication statusPublished - 31 Dec 2019
Event70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019 - Washington, United States
Duration: 21 Oct 201925 Oct 2019

Publication series

NameProceedings of the International Astronautical Congress, IAC
PublisherInternational Astronautical Federation, IAF
ISSN (Print)0074-1795


Conference70th International Astronautical Congress, IAC 2019
Country/TerritoryUnited States

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Deep Space Missions
  • Modular Architecture
  • Moon/Mars
  • Space Access
  • Space Exploration


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