Lockheed Martin unveils its ‘Mars Base Camp’ initiative
While NASA is working toward its Journey to Mars, contractors working with the space agency have started announcing their own plans. SpaceX was also slated to make its own announcement about Mars. Now, Lockheed Martin has thrown its hat into the Martian ring. During the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) 2017, held in Adelaide, Australia, Lockheed Martin announced its new Mars Base Camp initiative.
Announced on Thursday, Sept. 28 (EDT), the Mars Base Camp statement covered how the proposal could be used with NASA’s proposed lunar Deep Space Gateway (which is currently slated to be deployed sometime in the early 2020s), as well as a debut of a crewed Mars lander concept. While that sounds great, what does the process entail?
The proposal states that the architecture unveiled on Thursday would involve sending crews to Mars but with the focus on “an orbital outpost where scientist-astronauts can perform unprecedented, real-time scientific exploration of the Red Planet.”
Lockheed Martin’s proposal has several sets of objectives which the Colorado-based company:
- Transport astronauts from Earth to a Mars-orbiting science laboratory
- Conduct scientific exploration
- Identify locations for crews to land on the surface of Mars.
Mars Base Camp is intended to be a Mars-orbiting station with further additions that are planned to allow crews to travel to and from the dusty Martian plains.
A report appearing on CNBC noted that Lockheed Martin did have a lander to go with its Martian space station. Illustrations of this lander show a more streamlined, almost shuttle-esque craft that, according to Lockheed Martin, would be reusable and allow for missions of up to two weeks on the surface. It could then be refueled and prepared to descend back to Mars.
“Sending humans to Mars has always been a part of science fiction, but today we have the capability to make it a reality,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin via a release issued by the company. “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.”
Mars sells – but who’s buying?
Lockheed Martin was not alone in unveiling big plans for the Red Planet. SpaceX, via its CEO and Founder, Elon Musk, also made statements about the conference and, as usual, the terminology was “colorful.”
Headed to Adelaide soon to describe new BFR planetary colonizer design in detail @IAC2017. This should be worth seeing. Design feels right.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 27, 2017
While these companies might be issuing plans, they require funding, and a report by Ars Technica‘s Eric Berger, posted this past July (2017), noted that NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations, William Gerstenmaier, had stated that the agency does not have the funding required to send astronauts to Mars.
However, given the magnitude of such an effort, it is unlikely that any one nation, and certainly not one company on a self-funded initiative, could carry out a crewed mission to Mars – it will likely require, just as the International Space Station program did, a number of nations working together. Musk noted that such a ticket would now cost as much as $10 billion a pop (per a report appearing on Wired.com).
NASA’s Deep Space Gateway is part of the NextSTEP program, and both it and Mars Base Camp would rely on Lockheed Martin’s Orion spacecraft as well as elements provided by Orbital ATK and other contractors.
Since the close of the Space Shuttle Program in July of 2011, an array of announcements, most with a focus on the Red Planet, have been lofted and have come crashing down in terms of plans to send crews to distant destinations. Initially, George W. Bush had the agency sending astronauts to the “Moon, Mars and beyond” under the Vision for Space Exploration.
President Barack Obama canceled that initiative and had the agency scrap most of its manned deep space efforts. The Orion spacecraft under this endeavor would have only been used as a ‘lifeboat’ for the ISS. Congress, recognizing that this would, essentially, be wasting several years’ worth of work and billions in national investment, had the agency retool its efforts and enable smaller, private aerospace firms to be capable of handling the responsibility of sending cargo and crew to the space station.
With the election of President Donald Trump, NASA appears to be more-or-less on the same path, with the program being directed more toward a Moon-Mars direction.
Over the course of the past six years, NASA has had its direction altered substantially at least twice with an array of detours taken along the way – the Asteroid Redirect Mission being one of the more substantial. During the past decade, the U.S. space agency has worked with commercial entities more and more.
Video courtesy of Lockheed Martin
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.