NASA has picked space technology company Maxar Technologies Inc as the first contractor to help build its Gateway platform in lunar orbit, a crucial outpost for America's mission to relay astronauts to the moon in 2024, the US agency said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the NASA executive hired just six weeks ago to oversee the lunar program, Mark Sirangelo, resigned on Thursday.
An artist's impression of the Gateway lunar landing staging base in orbit around the moon.
NASA plans to return humans to the Moon by 2024, for the first time since the Apollo program ended in 1972.
Artemis 1 would be an uncrewed mission around the moon in 2020.
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Two individuals close to the space program and familiar with the situation said Sirangelo was escorted out of NASA's headquarters in Washington on Wednesday after his resignation. Artemis 3 would bring astronauts to the orbiting mini-station in 2024 prior to a lunar surface and return to Gateway.
The goal, he said, is to "prove out all of the capability with our best test astronauts and then eventually, future missions after that, we would have potentially habitation capability with longer duration missions".
That company will build the power and propulsion element, a vital component of the spacecraft and one that gives it mobility. By that point, a small space station, known as Gateway, must be in orbit around the moon, along with a landing vehicle of some sort to carry the Orion crew to the moon's surface.
NASA selected Maxar Technologies for Gateway's power and propulsion element over competing proposals from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Sierra Nevada.
The U.S. space agency unveiled the timetable for its so-called Artemis program on May 23.