Companies from space industry started to bid - after conception of lunar space station by Orbital ATK we have new idea by Lockheed Martin: Mars orbital camp!
It seems that NASA will not cry after International Space Station for a long time - new plans and conceptions offered by American companies look impressive. If they will be put into practice, NASA will easily set a new standard in space exploration. With two potential space stations on lunar orbit and on Mars orbit, NASA will become undisputable leader. It seems that times of visionary ideas from times of Apollo program returned, and America will abandon peaceful Low Earth Orbit and again in history of space exploration will set new aims. At last how long mankind could fly around the Earth?
Whole idea presented by Lockheed Martin on 24 May 2016 is worth of attention due the simple fact that it is based on technologies which are currently developed and able to be adopted; company claims that first flight to Mars combined with long term mission for exploration performed with remote controlled rovers could be possible in 2028. It is not standing in the opposition to present plans of NASA regarding SLS and Orion. First Orion and SLS manned mission, Exploration Mission 2, is planned for not later than 2023. It will cover reaching Moon and returning to Earth. Lockheed would like to reach Mars with EM-6-7 in 2028. It is not impossible if we take under consideration that astronauts will not land on Mars but remain on its orbit. Deploying capsule with rover is something well practiced by NASA especially controlled in real time from Mars orbit and should be more efficient comparing to rovers controlled from Earth. This mission could be research expedition for exploring Mars surface, possessing ground samples (which could be returned to Orion remaining on Mars orbit) and searching for best place for potential landing of manned mission in future.
Lockheed Martin named their concept project "Mars Base Camp". It will be based on modular linear construction. Pair of Orion spacecrafts lifted on atop of SLS rockets combined with cryo propulsion module on the aft, habitat and laboratory modules in the center. Part of the Mars Base Camp will be also pre-positioned laboratory with independent electric propulsion launched which will be launched before main segments. Every part will be launched separately with Orion spacecrafts launched in the end. Two Orion spacecrafts will be utilized for different roles. Aft Orion will be used as command center, life support function module and reentry module for returning to Earth. Fore Orion spacecraft will be used as rescue module and as exploration spacecraft for mission to Deimos and Phobos Mars moons. One of the main problems - high space radiation - will be solved in two ways. Reinforced oxygen tanks placed around modules will serve as radiation shields, during solar storms when radiation is increasing crew members will leave habitation module and use Orion spacecraft which will be equipped with internal radiation shield.
Program schedule is based on assumption that first Orion unmanned lunar mission will take place on 2018 (EM-1). Next milestone will be EM-2 mission which is considered by Lockheed Martin as possible on 2021; this manned lunar mission will be also part of the Mars Base Camp program. Also during EM-2 first parts of the laboratory module would be lifted to the Moon orbit. This laboratory module would be equipped with own electric propulsion and would be ready for testing in 2023. In 2027 additional Orion spacecrafts would dock to laboratory module and start its 1000 days Mars mission. At the moment all components of the Mars Base Camp are under development and it is hard to predict if time schedule could be kept. For the moment Orion and SLS are in advanced phase of development but electric propulsion is at the moment not able to be used with any heavy spacecraft, not to mention about heavy space laboratory module.
Concept project by Lockheed Martin is part of the NEXTStep NASA program which also covers recent cislunar space station proposed by Orbital ATK. Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program started in 2014 and covers public-private partnership for developing new technologies useful in deep space exploration. Contracts signed under NEXTStep referring to new electric propulsion technologies, new ideas for creating future habitable place in space and developing new small satellites. Until now seven companies were granted with donations: Orbital ATK, Bigelow Aerospace LLC, Boeing, Dynetics Inc., Lockheed Martin, Hamilton Sundstrand Space Systems International and Orbital Technologies Corporation.
Lockheed Martin would like to sign 12 months contract with NASA for preliminary studies on September 2016.