Russia and the US have agreed to co-operate on a Nasa-led project to build the first lunar space station, which will form part of a long-term project to explore deep space and send humans to Mars.
Like the International Space Station, the moon space station would be open to astronauts and cosmonauts from around the world.
It is expected that the Deep Space Gateway will allow mankind to eventually undertake space flights to Mars and elsewhere in the Solar System.
''The partners intend to develop international technical standards which will be used later, in particular to create a space station in lunar orbit,'' the Russian space agency said in a statement after the signing of an agreement at a conference in Adelaide, Australia.
In a mission statement for the project, Nasa said, ''Nasa is leading the next steps into deep space near the moon, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems needed for challenging missions to deep space destinations including Mars.
''The area of space near the moon offers a true deep space environment to gain experience for human missions that push farther into the Solar System, access the lunar surface for robotic missions but with the ability to return to Earth if needed in days rather than weeks or months.''
Building a strategic capability for advancing and sustaining human space exploration in the vicinity of the Moon will require the best from NASA, interested international partners, and US industry.
As NASA continues formulating the deep space gateway concept, the agency signed a joint statement with the Russian Space Agency, Roscosmos, on Wednesday, 27 September at the 68th International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia.
Meanwhile, NASA reported on its website, "This joint statement reflects the common vision for human exploration that NASA and Roscosmos share. Both agencies, as well as other International Space Station partners, see the gateway as a strategic component of human space exploration architecture that warrants additional study. NASA has already engaged industry partners in gateway concept studies. Roscosmos and other space station partner agencies are preparing to do the same.
"While the deep space gateway is still in concept formulation, NASA is pleased to see growing international interest in moving into cislunar space as the next step for advancing human space exploration," said Robert Lightfoot, NASA's acting administrator at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "Statements such as this one signed with Roscosmos show the gateway concept as an enabler to the kind of exploration architecture that is affordable and sustainable."
NASA plans to expand human presence into the solar system starting in the vicinity of the Moon using its new deep space exploration transportation systems, the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft. This plan challenges our current capabilities in human spaceflight and will benefit from engagement by multiple countries and US industry.
Studies of the gateway concept will provide technical information to inform future decisions about potential collaborations. These domestic and international studies are being used to shape the capabilities and partnering options for implementing the deep space gateway.
The space station partners are working to identify common exploration objectives and possible missions for the 2020s, including the gateway concept.
A key element of their study is to ensure that future deep space exploration missions take full advantage of technology development and demonstration enabled by the International Space Station, as well as lessons learned from its assembly and operations.
During the same time period and in parallel, NASA has been engaging US industry to evaluate habitation concepts for the gateway and for the deep space transport that would be needed for Mars exploration. NASA has competitively awarded a series of study and risk reduction contracts under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Broad Agency.
Announcement to advance habitation concepts, technologies, and prototypes of the required capabilities needed for deep space missions. The most recent awards included six US companies; Bigelow Aerospace, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Corporation, and Nanoracks.
Five of the six firms were selected to develop full-sized ground-based engineering prototypes of habitation systems, expected to be complete in 2018.
NASA has also solicited industry proposals for studies on concept development of a power and propulsion element, which would be the first piece of a gateway architecture.