This is big news from NASA, who is interested in information from US companies for cargo services to the Gateway:
NASA is interested in a logistics module capable of carrying pressurized and unpressurized cargo. The agency anticipates needing at least three cargo delivery missions, with the first mission potentially delivering a robotic arm provided by an international partner to the Gateway in 2024. The first two logistics modules will likely launch on commercial rockets, but after Gateway assembly, NASA’s Space Launch System will be available as well.
Once docked to the Gateway, the logistics module will be used for storage and trash. Additional requirements are outlined below, and in the information request online:
- Must include guidance and navigation, power generation and propulsion to enable docking to the Gateway;
- Must be built to the International Docking Standard; and
- Must be capable of self-disposal within three years of space operations.
From the detailed notice:
It is expected that the initial requirement will be for three missions, with a single mission expected to deliver up to 5 metric tons of pressurized cargo and 2.6 metric tons of unpressurized cargo. The first Logistics Module may be required to transport a Robotic Arm as unpressurized cargo.
It’s hard to overstate just how much cargo they want on a single mission. Dragon can take 6 metric tons to ISS in any mix of pressurized and unpressurized (though it becomes volume-limited for pressurized pretty quickly), and Cygnus can take 3.5 metric tons of pressurized cargo up.
NASA is asking about 7.6 metric tons of cargo to lunar orbit. That’s an ATV-class vehicle—a huge undertaking, requiring a big launch vehicle.
SpaceX and Blue Origin jump to mind immediately, but I wonder how much payload something like a cargo version of the NanoRacks-SSL-ULA-Altius outpost vehicle could take to lunar orbit.