The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has signed a historic agreement with NASA to design, build, and deliver the first airlock for the Lunar Gateway – a critical component of the orbital space station that will support sustainable astronaut missions on and around the Moon.
NASA’s ambitious Artemis program aims to return humans to the Moon by 2024. A key part of achieving this vision is the Lunar Gateway – a small space station that will orbit the Moon and serve as a command center and communication hub for lunar surface expeditions.
The Lunar Gateway will also serve as a technology testbed andwaypoint for astronauts travelling between Earth and the lunar surface. It will support 4 crew memberson 6-12 month science and technology demonstration missions in lunar orbit.
What is the Lunar Gateway?
The Lunar Gateway is often described as a small International Space Station in orbit around the Moon. It will have living quarters, life support systems, a lab, and ports for visiting spacecraft to dock.
The main components of the Gateway include:
- Power and Propulsion Element (PPE): Provides power and propulsion to maintain the Gateway’s orbit
- Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO): Living quarters for the astronauts
- Airlock: Allows astronauts to exit the station for spacewalks or lunar landers
- Logistics modules: Resupplies the station with food, fuel, experiments etc.
- Science modules: Dedicated labs for conducting experiments
The Gateway will be assembled over time by different international partners. The airlock provided by the UAE will be one of the most important early components.
|Power and Propulsion Element
|Habitation and Logistics Outpost
|ESA, JAXA etc.
|ESA, Roscosmos etc.
UAE to Build Critical Airlock
Under this new agreement, the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) in Dubai will lead an Emirati team to design, build, and operate the airlock over the next 5 years.
The airlock will launch aboard a SpaceX rocket in 2026 and dock with the Gateway in lunar orbit. It will be over 5 meters long and 4 meters in diameter – among the largest components of the orbital station.
This cutting-edge contribution will allow astronauts to exit the main parts of the Gateway without depressurizing the entire station. The airlock can support up to two astronauts at a time on spacewalks in next-generation spacesuits optimized for working on the lunar surface.
Why the Airlock is Critical
It enables astronauts to exit the station for extravehicular activities like lunar surface expeditions, construction, maintenence and science experiments.
It serves as a backup in case the docking ports are blocked for any visiting vehicles. Astronauts can spacewalk to clear any debris.
It acts as a proven engineering test platform for technologies like dust mitigation, advanced spacesuits and tools. Lessons can inform the design of future deep space habitats.
It allows safer transfer of payloads from inside the station to the external environment. Sensitive science experiments can leverage the airlock to slowly adjust to outside conditions.
In essence, it serves as the gateway for the Gateway – enabling human access to the lunar surface and sustainable exploration.
UAE Astronaut to Join Artemis Crew Bound for Lunar Orbit
As part of this agreement, a UAE astronaut will join one of the Artemis crews traveling to the Gateway between 2025-2028.
After launching on a NASA rocket, they will live and work aboard the Gateway for up to 6 months – conducting scientific research, maintaining systems, and preparing for expeditions to the lunar surface.
Meet the Astronaut Candidates
The UAE currently has 4 astronaut candidates training for such missions:
- Nora AlMatrooshi – The Arab world’s first female astronaut. Holds a degree in mechanical engineering. Currently training with NASA’s 2021 astronaut class.
- Mohammed AlMulla – Military pilot and engineer. Training on space systems and spacewalks.
- Salem AlMarri – Doctor focused on health research. Could study effects of long-duration spaceflight.
- Sultan AlNeyadi – Engineer specializing in spacecraft design. Familiar with Gateway tech.
While the exact crew selection is still a few years away, one or more of these astronauts may get to fly aboard the Artemis missions. Based on their specializations, Nora AlMatrooshi and Sultan AlNeyadi seem to be the front-runners.
But all four continue advanced training to prepare for any role on the important Gateway expeditions.
With the airlock deal in place, engineers at MBRSC will begin poring over NASA documents and interface controls to start designing the module. Both steel or lightweight composite materials are being considered for construction.
The timeline over the next 5 years is aggressive, with risks of potential delays. The UAE will have to work closely with NASA centers, astronauts and private launch providers to pull off the unprecedented delivery of a human-rated Deep Space airlock.
Several NASA specialists may embed at MBRSC to provide continuous technical support. Astronauts will be deeply involved in shaping crew interfaces and tools.
If milestones proceed as planned, the UAE-built airlock could launch for the Gateway by March 2026. This would result in the much-awaited activation by August 2026.
Just meeting the 2026 operations goal would be a massive achievement for the UAE and Arab world. It cements their status as principal partners in global space exploration for decades to come.
Beyond 2030, the Lunar Gateway and its UAE airlock will continue to serve as a staging ground for missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond. This agreement sets the stage for sustained Emirati contributions in America’s return – and humanity’s future – among the stars.
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