Lockheed Martin briefly stole SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s thunder at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide today, when the US defence contractor revealed plans to put humans on Mars within the decade.
Lockheed Martin, which is currently building the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter for the Australian Air Force, plans to collaborate with NASA to build what it calls “Mars Base Camp”, starting out with a Mars-orbiting science lab, before landing humans on the surface of the Red Planet in the 2030s.
Lockheed Martin’s time frames are more cautious than Musk’s, with the SpaceX founder announcing today that he wants to send his first flights on the three-month journey to the fourth planet in 2022.
But while Musk is going solo, Lockheed Martin is aligning their efforts with NASA’s recently-announced lunar Deep Space Gateway (DSG) plan, a crewed space station in orbit around the Moon, to be built over the next decade and used as a staging point for further space exploration.
Lockheed Martin’s proposal would see the Mars Base Camp built at the DSG before being deployed to Mars. The Gateway will give scientists the chance test systems and operations such as habitats, airlocks, solar electric propulsion, surface telerobotics and even landers.
The Base Camp’s first mission would be orbiting the Red Planet to assess the possibilities for a landing, with a surface lander, powered by engines using liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen propellants generated from water, built into the design.
Lisa Callahan, Lockheed Martin’s general manager of commercial civil space said the concept, based on NASA’s Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle would involve a reusable, single-stage lander capable for surface missions for up to four astronauts, lasting for two weeks, before it returns to the orbiting Mars Base Camp where it would be refuelled and readied for another mission.
“Sending humans to Mars has always been a part of science fiction, but today we have the capability to make it a reality,” she said.
“Partnered with NASA, our vision leverages hardware currently in development and production. We’re proud to have Orion powered-on and completing testing in preparation for its Exploration Mission-1 flight and eventually its journey to Mars.”
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