After Russia’s exit from the Lunar Gateway, NASA has found a new partner in the UAE

An artistic concept of the Lunar Gateway incorporating elements from international partners.
Enlarge / An artistic concept of the Lunar Gateway incorporating elements from international partners.

NASA/Alberto Bertolin

Relations between NASA and Russia’s state-owned space company were fairly robust five years ago, when the two parties signed a joint statement discussing a partnership in the development of a space station to orbit the moon called the Lunar Gateway. At that time, the Russian company Roscosmos was supposed to deliver an airlock for the plant.

Of course, a lot has happened in the five years since then. In 2020, as NASA began to flesh out its plans for lunar exploration under the Artemis program, Russia began to back down.

“In our view, the Lunar Gateway in its current form is too US-centric, so to speak,” said then-director general of Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin. “Russia will probably refrain from participating in it on a large scale.” At the time, Rogozin also expressed disdain for the NASA-created “Artemis Accords,” which set out a set of principles to guide cooperation between nations participating in the agency’s 21st-century lunar exploration plans.

By the time Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the country had already focused on collaborating with China on an “International Lunar Research Station.” This is a parallel effort with NASA’s Artemis program, which is inviting countries to join China and Russia in collaborating on lunar exploration.

As Russia drifted away from NASA, nearly two dozen countries signed multilateral agreements to join NASA’s Artemis Accords. One of the founding members, the United Arab Emirates, wants to further expand its participation. On Tuesday, The National reported that the UAE is in talks with NASA to provide an airlock for the Lunar Gateway. The small Middle Eastern nation has been working with Boeing on designs.

Separately, a source confirmed to Ars that the UAE has been in talks with NASA to provide an airlock for the gateway for about a year. The first elements of this small station, which will fly in a halo orbit around the moon, are expected to launch on a Falcon Heavy rocket in late 2024 or 2025. Humans will not live continuously on the Gateway like they do on the International Space Station. but inhabit it regularly. An airlock would make spacewalks easier.

The Islamic nation, which is smaller in area than the US state of Maine, has a population of just under 9 million people. However, it has expressed an outsized interest in space exploration. In June 2020, the UAE Space Program, in partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, sent the Hope probe to Mars to study the red planet’s atmosphere. UAE officials said the goal of this program is to inspire the younger generation to enter science, technology, engineering and medicine. At that time, only Russia, the United States, the European Union, and India had successfully launched a spacecraft into orbit around Mars.

Last weekend, the UAE participated in its first lunar launch. His small lunar rover Rashid was a passenger aboard the Hakuto-R lander, which was commercially developed by the Japanese company ispace. This mission successfully launched on a Falcon 9 rocket and is scheduled to land on the moon early next year.

The country also has a small astronaut corps. In 2019, Hazza Al Mansouri flew to the International Space Station on a Soyuz rocket for eight days as a guest astronaut. In February next year, Sultan Al Neyadi is scheduled to join the Crew 6 mission, where he will spend about six months aboard the space station. His seat was brokered by Axiom Space. Other UAE astronauts are training in Houston for future space missions.

Through its partnership in the Artemis Accords, the UAE is positioning itself to send an astronaut to the Lunar Gateway within this decade – and perhaps to the lunar surface in the 2030s.

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