Lockheed Martin announces plans to build prototype cislunar habitat
Although NewSpace companies may garner the lion’s share of headlines when it comes to reusing flight hardware, there are members of the industry’s old guard who are keen to show that reusability isn’t a skill held solely by the newcomers.
Lockheed Martin recently announced plans to build a prototype habitation module from a reused Shuttle-era cargo container as part of their submission for NASA’s Deep Space Gateway. Originally designed to carry cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) via the Space Shuttle’s payload bay, the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) will find new life as a ground model of full-scale deep-space habitat.
“We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware, originally designed for low-Earth orbit exploration, to play a role in humanity’s push into deep space,” stated Lockheed Martin NextSTEP program manager, Bill Pratt, in the company’s release.
Donatello, along with fellow Italian Space Agency-built MPLMs Leonardo and Raffaello, was initially designed as a pressurized cargo container, capable of holding more than 28,000 pounds (12,748 kilograms) of supplies destined for the ISS. With nearly 1,100 cubic feet (31 cubic meters) of interior volume, it may be easy to see why an MPLM may be considered for use as a habitation module.
In fact, a similar modification to an MPLM has already been successfully undertaken. In 2011, Space Shuttle Discovery delivered a refurbished and repurposed Leonardo to the ISS on its final mission. STS-133 saw the permanent installation of the Leonardo Permanent Multipurpose Module (PMM) to the orbiting laboratory, where it acts as a pressurized storage container.
Similar… but different
Though it may seem that much of the engineering in converting Donatello into a habitation module has already been done with Leonardo, the function of each is significantly dissimilar. While the latter is attached to a larger vessel in low-Earth orbit (LEO), the former will operate largely autonomously and further from Earth.
“Because the Deep Space Gateway would be uninhabited for several months at a time, it has to be rugged, reliable and have the robotic capabilities to operate autonomously. Essentially it is a robotic spacecraft that is well-suited for humans when Orion is present,” noted Pratt.
This independent operation will require the development of an autonomous command-and-control system, something with which Lockheed Martin has significant experience. Drawing on the knowledge gained from their work on the Juno and MAVEN spacecraft – both built by Lockheed Martin – the company believes they are well-positioned to accomplish this.
“Lockheed Martin’s experience building autonomous planetary spacecraft plays a large role in making that [creating autonomous command-and-control] possible,” said Pratt.
The company will spend the next 18 months building on the data from the Phase I concept study, before working with physical, virtual, and augmented reality systems in Phase II. Combining these advanced design practiced with heritage design allows Lockheed Martin to field a cost-effective and timely solution.
“Making use of existing capabilities will be a guiding philosophy for Lockheed Martin to minimize development time and meet NASA’s affordability goals,” concluded Pratt.
Curt Godwin has been a fan of space exploration for as long as he can remember, keeping his eyes to the skies from an early age. Initially majoring in Nuclear Engineering, Curt later decided that computers would be a more interesting - and safer - career field. He's worked in education technology for more than 20 years, and has been published in industry and peer journals, and is a respected authority on wireless network engineering. Throughout this period of his life, he maintained his love for all things space and has written about his experiences at a variety of NASA events, both on his personal blog and as a freelance media representative.