The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has signed a landmark agreement with NASA to contribute major hardware and an astronaut crew member to the planned Lunar Gateway station, set to be the first human outpost in orbit around the Moon.
UAE To Construct Gateway Airlock for Lunar Orbital Station
As part of the new partnership announced January 7th 2024, the UAE will develop a lunar airlock for the Lunar Gateway – a critical component that will enable astronauts to conduct scientific research and lunar surface explorations.
The airlock will launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in 2026 and connect to an available port on the station’s European System Providing Refueling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications (ESPRIT) module. It will allow crew members and payloads to exit and enter the station, facilitating extravehicular activities and deployment of scientific instruments, rovers and other gear to the lunar surface.
“”The airlock is essential for getting crew members and equipment like lunar rovers or scientific payloads to the lunar surface,”” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “”Having access to an airlock and expanded space station capabilities, combined with proven experience from launches and satellites, helps us expand our cooperation with the UAE as a valued partner for Artemis.””
Emirati Astronaut to Join NASA Moon Mission
In tandem with the hardware contribution, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) also announced the selection of Emirati astronaut, Nora Al Matrooshi, to join a future NASA Artemis crewed mission to cislunar orbit.
“”It will be a great honor to participate in NASA’s return to the Moon, representing my country while expanding human understanding of life beyond Earth,”” said Al Matrooshi.
Al Matrooshi will become the first Arab woman to complete long-duration spaceflight aboard the Lunar Gateway. Launching aboard an Orion spacecraft atop NASA’s powerful Space Launch System in 2026, she will live and work aboard the station for 6 months conducting biomedical research and deploying scientific payloads to the lunar surface.
“”Nora’s brave journey represents a watershed moment, catalyzing the next generation of young Emiratis to push boundaries and redefine the limits of human potential,”” remarked Chairman of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre, Hamad Obaid Al Mansoori.
UAE Fast-Tracking Space Technology Capabilities
The UAE’s expanding space program made headlines in 2019 when Hazza Al Mansouri became the first Emirati astronaut to launch to the International Space Station. Building on this success, the UAE is moving rapidly to amass end-to-end space capabilities spanning satellites, robotic surface explorers, astronaut corps development and now, a hardware contribution to a lunar orbital platform.
“”Today’s announcement builds on the UAE’s commitment to advanced space exploration for the benefit of all humanity. Our investment in these bold pursuits drives innovation, creates jobs and serves the nation’s digital economy ambitions,”” stated Sarah Al Amiri, UAE Minister of State for Advanced Technology.
| Milestone | Details |
| 2020: Hope Mars Probe | Historic first interplanetary mission by Arab world |
| 2022: Rashid Rover| Moon rover to study lunar soil, measure radiation, dust |
| 2024: Lunar Gateway Airlock | Provides ingress/egress for Artemis astronauts & payloads |
| 2026: Emirati astronaut launch | Nora Al Matrooshi to live aboard Lunar Gateway |
The airlock contribution comes just 2 years after the UAE successfully placed its ‘Hope’ probe in orbit around Mars to study the Martian climate – making history as the first interplanetary mission led by an Arab nation. The country is also building the Rashid rover, slated to land on the Moon in November 2022 as part of a commercial mission by SpaceX.
Gateway To Enable More Ambitious Moon Exploration
Managing Director for MBRSC’s Astronaut Programme, Saleh Al Ameri, highlighted how the Lunar Gateway will serve as a staging ground for more daring and expansive lunar surface access.
“”The Lunar Gateway allows astronauts to efficiently translate between multiple destinations – from the station’s cislunar orbit to the lunar surface itself,”” explained Al Ameri. “”This orbit is ideal for reusable landers that could ferry payloads and crewmembers to the Moon and back frequently at lower cost and risk.””
Compared to the Apollo era, the Lunar Gateway permits each individual surface excursion to last longer while the station serves as a safe ‘home base’ between explorations. As countries and private companies ramp up plans for Moon bases, surface infrastructure, mining and tourism, affordable and frequent transportation will be essential.
Partnership Continues Tradition of International Collaboration
The joint agreement to develop Gateway capabilities comes on the heels of recent commitments by Japan to supply station batteries and Canada to contribute an advanced robotic arm. Meanwhile the European Space Agency plans to launch the ESPRIT refueling module earlier in 2024 to power Gateway operations.
“”Bringing together diverse international talents and resources will spark innovation – enabling humanity’s next giant leaps and strengthening global partnerships both on Earth and in space,”” said NASA lead for Gateway formulation, Dan Hartman.
As NASA gears up to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024 under the Artemis program, contributions from international players will be vital to building up essential infrastructure in cislunar space and achieving a sustained human return to the lunar surface.
Outlook: Expanded Cooperation Across Research, Commercialization
On the sidelines of the partnership announcement, UAE and NASA officials convened strategic meetings to explore further cooperation across areas like climate change research, Mars exploration, astronaut training and driving commercial space industry growth.
“”Space holds endless promise to improve life on Earth. The UAE will continue leveraging proven space technologies and forging win-win space partnerships to solve global challenges and bring people together,”” said Chairman Al Mansoori.
With the upcoming launch of the joint airlock, astronaut mission and Rashid rover surface operations, the recently forged alliance between the UAE and NASA ushers in an era of elevated innovation and discovery for Mission to the Moon.
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