Lockheed Martin outlines plan to send humans to Mars orbit by 2028

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ockheed Martin proposes utilizing the Space Launch System, Orion, Solar Electric Propulsion, and space habitats to send six people to Mars orbit by 2028. There, they will be able to conduct telerobotics from orbit, explore the red planet’s moons and more. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

A plan to send humans Martian orbit was outlined by members of Lockheed Martin during the Humans to Mars Summit and, at the same time, the U.S. House of Representatives Space Subcommittee in Washington, DC. The plan calls for a laboratory around the red planet to be occupied by six astronauts by 2028.

The “Mars Base Camp” concept, which has not yet been publicly endorse by NASA, would accelerate the space agency’s timeline for humans arriving at Mars from the mid 2030s to the late 2020s. It uses and expands upon plans already under study by Lockheed Martin to develop habitats for deep space exploration. The company, however, did not specify any technical details or costs related to the proposed science laboratory, other than it would need to fit inside NASA’s existing budget.

“What can you get done in 10 years?” said Tony Antonelli, Lockheed Martin’s chief technologist for civil space exploration and former NASA astronaut. “It has to be affordable, so now just make it fit. What can you accomplish?”

Antonelli formally announced the concept at the Humans to Mars Summit during a panel discussion titled “Vision to Reality: Human Exploration of Mars.”

The Mars Base Camp concept would put scientist-astronauts in range of the moons of Mars as well as allow for low-latency telerobotics on the surface of the red planet. The crew could analyze Martian rock and regolith samples—some might even be launched robotically from the surface to rendezvous with the lab—and make real-time science decisions.

“A key part of turning the vision into a reality and accomplishing stuff in relatively short term—something bold and exciting—is leveraging your existing capabilities,” Antonelli said.

The concept is built on technologies that are available today or currently in development. Orion, for which Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor, is designed to be a deep-space crew capsule. As such their concept relies on it for life support, communication and navigation. The Space Launch System would lift the company’s habitat modules and equipment and push them toward Mars.

Habitat modules, like the ones being proposed by Lockheed Martin and other companies in NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, will give astronauts a place to live and work both in transit and around the red planet. Finally, Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), which is already in wide use on smaller commercial spacecraft in Earth orbit, will be used to propel crew and hardware to Mars.

Video courtesy of Lockheed Martin

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