NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have selected the orbital path that the lunar platform Gateway will take during its mission. According to the space agencies, the Gateway will orbit the Moon in a halo-like path.

The Gateway is a space station currently being developed by NASA, ESA, the Canadian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. It will be like the International Space Station but instead of orbiting Earth, the Gateway will go around the Moon.

As a lunar orbital platform, the Gateway will serve as a resource center for missions on the Moon. It will provide supplies and support to astronauts and robots deployed on the lunar surface.

For months, the ESA and NASA have been busy determining the orbital path of the Gateway once it reaches the Moon. After months of deliberation, they were able to come up with an optimal path for the space station.

According to the space agencies, the Gateway will follow a near-rectilinear halo orbit. In other words, it will fly around the Moon at an oblong-like path. Its closest distance from the lunar surface will be about 3,000 kilometers while the farthest will be 70,000 kilometers.

ESA explained that in order to stay on this type of path, the Gateway will constantly rely on its various features to attain a stable orbit.

“Finding a lunar orbit for the Gateway is no trivial thing,” Markus Landgraf of ESA’s Human and Robotic Exploration Activities said in a press release. “If you want to stay there for several years, the near-rectilinear halo orbit is slightly unstable and objects in this orbit do have a tendency of drifting away.”

Despite the challenging nature of the halo orbit, it was selected by NASA and the ESA primarily because it will be the most efficient path for the Gateway. Since space agencies intend to launch various payloads from Earth to the Gateway, following the near-rectilinear halo orbit will allow the space station to easily collect the cargos from space.

Then, once the Gateway reaches its closest distance to the Moon’s surface, it will be able to unload the payloads to the ground.

It is not yet clear when the Gateway will become fully operation but space agencies are planning to launch its various components starting in 2022.

BoeingDeepSpaceGateway-high-res A concept image showing Boeing's Deep Space Gateway. Photo: Boeing