Artist’s impression of the ExoMars 2016 Trace Gas Orbiter at Mars. ESA/ATG medialab

For its journey to Mars, NASA is looking into building a spaceport orbiting the moon that would serve as a gateway to deep space and the lunar surface, the agency announced this week.

The project, called Deep Space Gateway, will allow engineers to test new technologies and develop new skills necessary for the trip to Mars, NASA said. The first part of exploration near the moon will use current technologies that will allow NASA to “gain experience with extended operations farther from Earth than previously completed.”

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The gateway will be like a mini space station and serve as a pit stop for missions to Mars. It is expected to have a power bus, a small habitat for astronauts, docking capability, an airlock and will be serviced by logistics modules to enable research. The gateway’s three primary elements, the power and propulsion bus and habitat module, as well as a small logistics module would take advantage of the Space Launch System and crewed deep space capability of the Orion spacecraft, NASA said.

The spaceport will be developed, serviced and used in collaboration with commercial and international partners.

“I envision different partners, both international and commercial, contributing to the gateway and using it in a variety of ways with a system that can move to different orbits to enable a variety of missions,” William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA said in a statement.

“The gateway could move to support robotic or partner missions to the surface of the moon, or to a high lunar orbit to support missions departing from the gateway to other destinations in the solar system,” he added.

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NASA is also planning to build a deep space transport spacecraft, a project under the name Deep Space Transport. The spacecraft will be a reusable vehicle that will be specifically made for missions to the red planet. The spacecraft would take the crew out to their destination and bring them back to the gateway, where it can be serviced and sent out again, the space agency explained.

“The gateway and transport could potentially support mission after mission as a hub of activity in deep space near the moon, representing multiple countries and agencies with partners from both government and private industry,” NASA said about the spaceport and spacecraft.