Lockheed Martin has revealed its plans for a “Mars base camp” that would be orbiting the Red Planet within a decade–complete with its own Mars lander vehicle.
In case you’re still wondering why Mars is getting so much attention, with so many “Mars plans” (read Elon Musk’s thorough BFR Mars Colonization plan announcement here), it really all boils down to accessibility.
Mars is the most logistically-convenient destination for human colonization from Earth. While Venus is the closest planet to us, Mars’s atmosphere (pressure and ground temperature) is more hospitable to hardware and therefore more conducive to research.#LockheedMartin to launch a “Mars base camp” by 2028Click To Tweet
Mars is thus favored as a colonization and research destination by various countries and their space agencies and private space companies. NASA, the traditional trailblazer for space exploration, has “deprioritized” its plans for the Red Planet.
If you checked out the BFR link above, you know that SpaceX perhaps has one of the most exciting Mars colonization roadmaps. Other intriguing projects include the UAE’s plan to build a Martian metropolis and, first, a mock-up martian colony here on Earth.
Now, it’s Lockheed Martin’s turn to embark upon the race to Mars.
1. The Time (for Mars) is now, According to Lockheed Martin!
Lockheed Martin, the biggest defense contractor in the U.S., is no stranger to space exploration–that is exemplified by their long partnership with NASA.
The company is the originator of MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) that would be the first robotic mission dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars. Lockheed Martin Space Systems also designed NASA’s MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter)
In March of last year, at the H2M 2016 (The Humans to Mars Summit), Lockheed Martin first presented the concept of its Mars base camp project.
At the 68th IAC (International Astronautical Congress, held from the 25th to the 29th of September, 2017 in Australia), Lockheed unveiled new details of its Mars base camp and a lander vehicle to carry astronauts to and from Mars ground.
“The time is now to get humans to Mars,” said Lockheed Martin in the video presenting the project, because of technological advances, know-how and public enthusiasm.
2. Mars Base Camp
Lockheed’s Mars base camp builds on existing technology, mainly by adding complimentary systems to NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The plan as a whole serves as a support system for a 1,000-day manned missions to Mars.
The orbiting outpost will have two of everything for backup: two Orion capsules, two fuel tanks for the journey to and from Mars, two cryogenic propulsion stages, two habitats and a living space for 6 astronauts, and four commercial solar arrays to generate power.
From the base camp it will be easier for crews to carry out many activities and observations, such as real-time monitoring of automated systems. Engineers will not have to load commands in advance to avoid time-delay between Earth and Mars.
Crews could also spot possible landing sites, collect samples on Mars and launch excursions to Mars’ two moons, Deimos and Phobos, using one of the Orion spacecraft. Lockheed’s martian outpost will serve as a starting point for the first colonizers before venturing to the surface.
3. Ascent/Descent Vehicle
Astronauts in the base camp need a vehicle to get to and from Mars surface. Lockheed has added MADV (the Mars Ascent/Descent Vehicle), a reusable lander able to land on the surface but also to take off thanks to multiple liquid oxygen and hydrogen-powered engines.
MADV allows 4 astronauts to descend to the planet’s surface and stay on location for up to 4 weeks then get back to the base camp for refueling for another sortie.
Lockheed’s project seems to be aligning perfectly with NASA’s moon plans. The concept of the ascent/descent vehicle could also be applied to the Moon, and the whole Mars Base Camp would be built away from Earth’s gravity, at the Deep Space Gateway, NASA’s future lunar station.
The company thinks it can launch the system in about a decade from now, 4 years shy of the date set by Elon Musk to carry the first manned mission to Mars.