NASA taps Northrop Grumman to design Gateway outpost's HALO module

NASA has struck a deal with Northrop Grumman that tasks the company with designing the first crew module for the future Gateway lunar outpost. Once completed and launched, this orbiting outpost will be the base station for planned future missions on the Moon, including a place where astronauts can live and perform experiments. The Gateway is part of NASA's larger mission to return to the Moon and increase its work on Mars.

The $187 million contract was awarded to Northrop Grumman subsidiary Orbital Science Corporation based in Virginia. The company is tasked with designing the Habitation And Logistics Outpost (HALO), a pressurized living module designed to house astronauts while they're in space. According to NASA, this will be the initial Gateway crew module; it'll be around the size of a studio apartment.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called the contract a 'significant milestone' for the Artemis program, one that 'furthers our plans for human exploration of the Moon in preparation for future human missions to Mars.'

Under this contract, Northrop Grumman will 'finalize the design' of HALO's systems and subsystems, according to NASA, which says that it expects to have a second contract for the company by the end of 2020 that will cover the fabrication and assembly of the HALO module. If everything goes according to schedule, this assembled module will be integrated with the Gateway's PPE by late 2023.

In order to reduce costs and risks, NASA says that HALO and the Gateway power and propulsion element (PPE) will launch together in 2023 under its Artemis initiative. Success will be more likely by integrating these two elements before they launch, NASA explains; by doing this, the two otherwise separate elements won't be required to dock with each other once in space. The space agency plans to return humans to the Moon by 2024.