Aerospace company Airbus is to draw up plans for Europe’s contribution to a base orbiting the moon.
The Gateway is an international project that envisages a lunar staging post for manned space missions to the moon or Mars.
The European Space Agency (ESA) has commissioned Airbus, which has a major space facility in Stevenage, to develop key concepts for the station over the next 15 months.
The first study will look at designs for a habitation and research module measuring around 6.5 metres (21ft) and weighing nine tonnes.
Airbus will also consider plans for refuelling, docking and telecommunications infrastructure.
The company’s Defence and Space division builds advanced satellites and spacecraft at its assembly plant in Stevenage.
BepiColombo, a European spacecraft due to blast off on a journey to the planet Mercury on Saturday, was built there.
The US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and Europe all have a role in the Gateway project, led by the American space agency Nasa.
Nasa plans to launch the base’s central power propulsion element (PPE) into lunar orbit in the early 2020s.
David Parker, director of human and robotic exploration at ESA, said: “With these studies and other preparations, ESA aims to stay at the centre of human space exploration.
“The Gateway will become humanity’s most remote research outpost and we hope Europe will benefit from the world of innovation, discovery and excitement that lies ahead.”
Unlike the International Space Station (ISS), the Gateway will not be continually manned.
It is intended to act as a staging post for human space exploration and crewed when needed.