- Allistair Mitchell
Tales from the Edict 11 - The First of the Orbital Platforms
Updated: Apr 30, 2021
By 2023 NASA and Boeing had test launched three of the SLS launch vehicles into orbit around Earth and one on a return trip to the moon. However, the success and speed at which SpaceX had demonstrated their own much more capable Starship system, started the end of any further funding for SLS. Indeed, a congressional enquiry into the project shed light on the cynical nature in which government space contracts were awarded and exploited by big corporations in league with partisan politicians who, in turn, sought political funding in return.
With billions of dollars wasted and the US economy seriously burdened after the pandemic, congress was inclined to cut funding to NASA. A last-ditch effort by Boeing’s politicians managed to maintain funding but at a cost. Boeing were frozen out of the future contract. Congress was in no mood to allow the overspend to continue and in 2024 SLS was cancelled in favour of cheaper outside contractors. At the same time the Lunar Gateway project was taken out of the hands of NASA and placed in the hands of a consortium led by SpaceX, Aerojet Rocketdyne, Orbital AGK and Dynetics (all were involved in the cancelled booster development program). More partners were to join the consortium in the years following the announcement.
The first two modules for Lunar Gateway were launched in early 2025 and thereafter more modules were launched as regularly as had taken place for the hugely successful Starlink satellite Constellation. By 2027 the Lunar Gateway was manned with an international crew of six and the first modules for what would become Moon Base Zero were already in place and short stay visits by astronauts had begun.
The highly modular design of Lunar Gateway enabled the consortium to launch the first modules of what would be a second orbital platform into low Earth orbit. This would eventually become the Mars Gateway, which would set off on its 7-month voyage in 2029 to arrive around Mars in support of the pathfinder Martian missions.
One important aspect of the Gateway projects and the realignment from NASA to private contractors was the increased partisanship placed on the funding allocation. The years of excess and bloated spending were replaced by genuine cost-effective delivery and in 2025 the program became a national project and a symbol of pride. By this time, the commercial potential for the Gateways had become clear and Congress moved to protect America’s long-term interests and reduced the international exposure of the project. Although the Gateways were the first orbital platforms (the ISS would remain an international science project until 2031 when it was taken over by the UN Solar Assembly) the success of the Chinese 30-40 Space Initiative programme soon saw a rival orbital platform deployed.