Lockheed Martin provides details into use of Shuttle-era cargo pods for proposed cislunar habitat
Lockheed Martin was recently selected by NASA to build a full-scale prototype of a cislunar habitat. The development of the habitation module is part of the Phase II contract for the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.
Under the NextSTEP-2 contract, Lockheed Martin will build a full-scale habitat prototype in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The habitat will be a refurbished version of the Shuttle-era Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM).
NASA never flew Donatello on cargo runs to the International Space Station (ISS). Instead, the U.S. space agency used the nearly identical Leonardo, which was converted to the Permanent Multipurpose Module in 2011 and remains attached to the orbiting laboratory, and Raffaello on 12 Space Shuttle flights between 2001 and 2011. The never-flown module is about 22 feet (6.7 meters) long and 15 feet (4.6 meters) in diameter.
“This prototype will pave the way for NASA’s future Deep Space Gateway and other deep space habitats,” Danielle Hauf with Lockheed Martin’s Communications told SpaceFlight Insider.
The Deep Space Gateway is a planned cislunar space station that could serve as a staging point for future crewed missions beyond the Earth-Moon system. It is expected to be completed in the 2020s. However, in order to successfully construct the habitat in space, prototype units need to be developed and tested. Lockheed Martin was one of several companies selected to participate in this effort.
Lockheed Martin has developed and is developing numerous spacecraft and satellites, including NASA’s Orion capsule designed for deep space exploration missions in the future.
“We are proud to be a part of Phase II of the NextSTEP contract,” Hauf said. “Using our rich heritage of operating spacecraft in deep space through planetary exploration missions and our intimate knowledge of the Orion spacecraft, we hope to make the most of NASA’s investments to provide a unique offering.”
Work under the Phase II contract will last over 18 months. During the development and testing of the refurbished module, the company will focus on mixed reality and rapid prototyping, as well as work on concept refinement and risk reduction. Lockheed Martin will also use virtual prototyping to validate the habitat module’s form, fit, and function.
These results are expected to improve understanding of the systems, standards, and common interfaces needed to make living in deep space possible.
“At Lockheed Martin, we have a long heritage of building spacecraft that are designed to survive in the harsh environment of deep space with minimal human interaction, and this habitat and the Deep Space Gateway would be similar,” Hauf said. “We are also using virtual and augmented reality technology to test our assumptions throughout the design and build of this prototype.”
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.