After Russia exits the Moon Gate, NASA has found a new partner in the United Arab Emirates

Zoom in / An artist’s concept of Gateway to the Moon incorporating items from international partners.

NASA/Alberto Bertolin

Relations between NASA and the state-owned Russian Space Corporation were fairly strong five years ago when the two parties signed a joint statement that discussed partnership over the development of a lunar-orbiting space station, called Lunar Gateway. At the time, Russia’s Roscosmos was expected to provide an airlock for the facility.

A lot has happened in the five years since, of course. In 2020, as NASA began to formulate its plans for more precise lunar exploration under the Artemis program, Russia began to pull away.

“From our point of view, Moongate in its current form is too US-centric, so to speak,” said Dmitry Rogozin, then General Director of Roscosmos. Russia will likely refrain from participating in it on a large scale. At the time, Rogozin also expressed his disdain for NASA’s “Artemis Accords,” which laid out a set of principles to guide cooperation between nations involved in the agency’s plans for lunar exploration in the 21st century.

By the time Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the country had already shifted toward working with China on the “International Lunar Research Station.” This is a parallel effort to NASA’s Artemis program, which invites countries to join China and Russia to collaborate on lunar exploration.

While Russia has been moving away from NASA, nearly two dozen countries have signed multilateral agreements to join NASA’s Artemis Accords. The UAE, one of the founding member states, is looking forward to increasing its participation. On Tuesday, The National reported that the UAE is in discussions with NASA to provide an airlock for the Moon Gateway. The small Middle Eastern country is working with Boeing on the designs.

Separately, a source confirmed to Ars that the UAE has been talking with NASA for about a year to provide an airlock for the Gateway. The first elements of this small station, which will fly in a halo orbit around the Moon, will likely lift off on a Falcon Heavy rocket in late 2024 or 2025. Humans will not live on the Gateway continuously, as with the International Space Station, but rather populate it periodically . An airlock would facilitate spacewalks.

The Muslim nation, which is smaller in area than the US state of Maine, has a population of only about 9 million. However, she has expressed a keen interest in space exploration. In June 2020, through a partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, the UAE space program sent the “Hope” probe to Mars to study the red planet’s atmosphere. Emirati officials said the aim of this program is to inspire the younger generation to get involved in science, technology, engineering and medicine. At that time, only Russia, the United States, the European Union and India had succeeded in putting a spacecraft into orbit around Mars.

Last weekend, the Emirates participated in the first launch on the moon. Her small lunar rover Rashid was traveling on the Hakuto-R lander, commercially developed by the Japanese company ispace. This mission was successfully launched on a Falcon 9 rocket and is expected to land on the moon early next year.

The country also has a small astronaut corps. In 2019, Hazzaa Al-Mansoori flew to the International Space Station on a Soyuz rocket for eight days as a visiting astronaut. Next February, Sultan Al Neyadi is scheduled to join the Crew-6 mission, where he will spend about six months aboard the space station. His seat was mediated by Axiom Space. Other Emirati astronauts are training in Houston for future space missions.

Through its partnership with the Artemis Accords, the UAE is preparing to send an astronaut to Gateway to the Moon later this decade – and possibly to the lunar surface in the 2030s.

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