As the world's leading space navigation nations plan their next great outpost in space, a successor to the International Space Station, scientists are drawing up a wish list of experiments for the most remote human laboratory ever built . NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are organizing meetings to discuss the scientific plans, the first of which will take place from December 5 to 6 in Noordwijk, the Netherlands.
No country has committed to fully fund the project, which still has no estimated cost, but is scheduled for 2020. But space agencies are working on a plan to build an outpost in orbit around the Moon. Scientists are already competing for space on the platform. "I was surprised at the scope and quality of the proposals," says James Carpenter, head of human exploration and robotics at ESA in Noordwijk, who organized the event and doubled the capacity of the agency's event to 250 people. at the level of interest.
Known as the Deep Space Gateway, the platform is the next "commonly accepted" step once the International Space Station retires in the mid-2020s, says David Parker, director of space exploration and human spaceflight in that. The space agencies have made it clear that their main objective would be to test, from Earth's backyard, the technology for deep space exploration and long-term missions, including, eventually, going to Mars. "But we also want to find out how we get the best science," says Parker.
Scientists are eager to have input into the early stages of the planning process. Doing so could help the project avoid the fate of the International Space Station, which some have criticized for being slow to live up to its research potential. But researchers must remember that the main goal of both facilities is to support future exploration, says Richard Binzel, a planetary scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. "The space station is an instrument for human experience and, almost, space diplomacy," he says. "Where scientists become outraged is in the claim that science justifies the space station, it does not and never has."
Still, researchers have already devised a wide range of experiments. The location of the platform, outside the protective magnetic field of the Earth and so representative of deep space, and with easy access to the Moon, would provide a unique environment for research. In addition to proving how space affects human physiology and technology to survive, researchers will propose ways in which the station could support planetary studies and allow innovative experiments in physics and astronomy, says Carpenter.
The workshop will exhibit a series of physics experiments that would not only exploit the environment, but could also become economically viable only by taking advantage of the power and navigation capabilities of the station. These include a meteoroid-environment monitor, which would study drifting interstellar dust that never reaches Earth due to the planet's magnetic field. A low frequency radio observatory could be used to capture radiation from the "dark ages" of the Universe, between 400,000 and 100 million years after the Big Bang, which is a great challenge on Earth due to the interference of human sources and the planet's ionosphere, says Mark Bentum, a physicist at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands.
Trapped on the moon and beyond
A space station in the vicinity of the Moon would provide lunar scientists with regular access to its surface, says Mahesh Anand, a planetary scientist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, UK. United. Water has been confirmed on the Moon in the last decade, but researchers still know little about where it is, how much there is, and how feasible it would be to extract it. Researchers aboard an orbiting laboratory could also control lunar vehicles in real time, and could study the lunar rock without having to return samples to Earth.
Others seek to develop technology to travel in deep space. Armin Gölzhäuser, a physical chemist at the University of Bielefeld in Germany, wants to test the potential of nanometer-sized carbon membranes of fused aromatic molecules for use as durable, thin and efficient filters that could recycle wastewater or air. Meanwhile, biochemist Katharina Brinkert at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena and her colleagues designed a device to boost the solar-assisted production of hydrogen and oxygen, optimized for use in microgravity.
The political interest in the platform is growing. In September, NASA signed a joint agreement with Roscosmos, its Russian counterpart, which described the platform as part of its "common vision for human exploration." The Japanese and Canadian space agencies have also expressed interest. Both NASA and ESA have already hired industry partners to carry out preliminary work. But if and when the project advances will depend largely on the new administrator of NASA. James Bridenstine, a Republican member of the US Congress. UU From Oklahoma, he has been nominated for the role, but he must still be named. If Deep Space Gateway will be launched as planned in the mid-2020s, key decisions should be made before the end of 2019, says Parker.
This article is reproduced with permission and published for the first time on December 5, 2017.