UAE: Construction of Lunar Gateway airlock to begin 'immediately'

An expert has said that the MBRSC is 'very excited to be a part of the Gateway and Artemis'


Nandini Sircar

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Published: Tue 9 Jan 2024, 8:06 PM

Last updated: Tue 9 Jan 2024, 11:56 PM

The UAE is providing a Gateway airlock for a lunar-orbiting station. The construction of the airlock is scheduled to begin "immediately", Salem Al Marri, Director General of the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC) said during an exclusive interview with Khaleej Times.

The Lunar Airlock has received increased attention after the US and UAE signed an agreement to provide the 'sealed chamber'. This airlock will be used to enter and exit a space station.

Al Marri said, the Centre is “very excited to be a part of the Gateway and Artemis.”

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He added, “The gateway is a station being built predominantly by the US, Europe, Canada, Japan, and now the UAE. So, we will provide a very important element which is the airlock. The airlock is a very large segment of this. We plan to start (work) immediately, talking to the different entities involved, to start designing and manufacturing this. We hopefully expect to finish this by 2030.”

Local, international industry partners

When questioned about the potential involvement of the UAE’s original Rashid rover team in building this airlock, Marri clarified that the focus will be on assessing industry expertise and capacity. This is because of the pioneering nature of this technology and how it has been introduced as a new domain for MBRSC and the UAE.

“We will partner with industry to see how we can do knowledge transfer programmes. But at the same time, we will see what activities can be done in the UAE, and what materials we can take from the UAE companies such as aluminium, panels among others, as we do with our satellites. That’s how we intend to build it. So, it will be a collaboration between local, international, and the MBRSC itself,” he added.

The lunar space station is set to aid the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa) in their extended exploration of the Moon through the Artemis program, benefiting all parties involved.

As per the arrangement, the UAE will also ensure a seat on an upcoming Artemis mission, aiming to send the first Emirati to orbit the Moon.

MBRSC ready to ‘work very hard’ despite challenges

Meanwhile, Marri pointed out that despite several anticipated challenges MBRSC is committed to working “very hard” to overcome the impediments.

He stressed this project involves collaboration between Nasa and various international partners, aiming to utilize the lessons learned from the International Space Station (ISS) to overcome multiple foreseeable and unforeseeable challenges.

Marri noted, “Space is very hard. What we are doing with our partners in NASA is something unique-- the first time in human history that a space station is being built around the Moon. So, there's a lot of learning that Nasa and its partners have gone through. They will use that learning from the ISS to take to the Gateway. But there will be challenges and the best way to overcome those challenges is to work closely with as many international partners as you can. This is a global effort to achieve the objective.”

The Gateway is set to function within a near-rectilinear halo orbit around the moon, aiding landings in the southern polar area.

Its construction will span several missions, commencing with the deployment of a propulsion element and habitation module aboard a Falcon Heavy.

He adds, “There'll be engineering, technical, schedule, and scientific challenges to build the airlock but we will work very hard to overcome those. We are seeing a big push towards the Moon. The Moon is particularly difficult. We’re not talking about landing now we're talking about a station around the Moon. So, I think with the partners that we have, we are sure to have a great time.”

What is the purpose of the airlock?

The MBRSC will not only be responsible for providing and managing the airlock but will also offer ongoing engineering assistance for the lunar space station.

Through the airlock, crews and scientific research materials can transition between the pressurized crew modules within Gateway to the vacuum of space, facilitating diverse scientific investigations in deep space. This transfer capability will aid in broader scientific endeavours and support maintenance activities for the Gateway.

Marri explains the airlock acts as a pivotal point for missions to the lunar surface and presents opportunities for astronauts to conduct spacewalks while orbiting the Moon.

“Astronauts will utilize it for accessing and departing from the station, as well as for docking various spacecraft when they arrive. Additionally, it serves as an entry point for extravehicular activities (EVAs), similar to Sultan’s (astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi) work at the ISS,” he added.

He elaborates that while the ISS has multiple airlocks the Gateway will have only ‘one’ airlock. “This will be ‘that’ airlock. So, any activities outside of the station, science activities that’ll be assigned, will be conducted from the UAE airlock.”


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