Science 4 min read

Look out SpaceX: 3 Lockheed Martin Mars Plans you Should Know About

Aside from Elon Musk and SpaceX's bombshell BFR and mars colonization plan, here are three Lockheed Martin Mars plans you should know about.

Mr. Timmi | Shutterstock.com

Mr. Timmi | Shutterstock.com

Lockheed Martin has revealed its plans for a “Mars base camp” that would be orbiting the Red Planet within a decade–complete with its own Mars lander vehicle.

In case you’re still wondering why Mars is getting so much attention, with so many “Mars plans” (read Elon Musk’s thorough BFR Mars Colonization plan announcement here), it really all boils down to accessibility.

Mars is the most logistically-convenient destination for human colonization from Earth. While Venus is the closest planet to us, Mars’s atmosphere (pressure and ground temperature) is more hospitable to hardware and therefore more conducive to research.

#LockheedMartin to launch a “Mars base camp” by 2028Click To Tweet

Mars is thus favored as a colonization and research destination by various countries and their space agencies and private space companies. NASA, the traditional trailblazer for space exploration, has “deprioritized” its plans for the Red Planet.

If you checked out the BFR link above, you know that SpaceX perhaps has one of the most exciting Mars colonization roadmaps. Other intriguing projects include the UAE’s plan to build a Martian metropolis and, first, a mock-up martian colony here on Earth.

Now, it’s Lockheed Martin’s turn to embark upon the race to Mars.

1. The Time (for Mars) is now, According to Lockheed Martin!

Lockheed Martin, the biggest defense contractor in the U.S., is no stranger to space exploration–that is exemplified by their long partnership with NASA.

The company is the originator of MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) that would be the first robotic mission dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars. Lockheed Martin Space Systems also designed NASA’s MRO (Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter)

In March of last year, at the H2M 2016 (The Humans to Mars Summit), Lockheed Martin first presented the concept of its Mars base camp project.

At the 68th IAC (International Astronautical Congress, held from the 25th to the 29th of September, 2017 in Australia), Lockheed unveiled new details of its Mars base camp and a lander vehicle to carry astronauts to and from Mars ground.

“The time is now to get humans to Mars,” said Lockheed Martin in the video presenting the project, because of technological advances, know-how and public enthusiasm.

2. Mars Base Camp

Lockheed’s Mars base camp builds on existing technology, mainly by adding complimentary systems to NASA’s Orion spacecraft. The plan as a whole serves as a support system for a 1,000-day manned missions to Mars.

The orbiting outpost will have two of everything for backup: two Orion capsules, two fuel tanks for the journey to and from Mars, two cryogenic propulsion stages, two habitats and a living space for 6 astronauts, and four commercial solar arrays to generate power.

From the base camp it will be easier for crews to carry out many activities and observations, such as real-time monitoring of automated systems. Engineers will not have to load commands in advance to avoid time-delay between Earth and Mars.

Crews could also spot possible landing sites, collect samples on Mars and launch excursions to Mars’ two moons, Deimos and Phobos, using one of the Orion spacecraft. Lockheed’s martian outpost will serve as a starting point for the first colonizers before venturing to the surface.

3. Ascent/Descent Vehicle

Astronauts in the base camp need a vehicle to get to and from Mars surface. Lockheed has added MADV (the Mars Ascent/Descent Vehicle), a reusable lander able to land on the surface but also to take off thanks to multiple liquid oxygen and hydrogen-powered engines.

MADV allows 4 astronauts to descend to the planet’s surface and stay on location for up to 4 weeks then get back to the base camp for refueling for another sortie.

Lockheed’s project seems to be aligning perfectly with NASA’s moon plans. The concept of the ascent/descent vehicle could also be applied to the Moon, and the whole Mars Base Camp would be built away from Earth’s gravity, at the Deep Space Gateway, NASA’s future lunar station.

The company thinks it can launch the system in about a decade from now, 4 years shy of the date set by Elon Musk to carry the first manned mission to Mars.

Who has the best chance to establish a worthwhile base camp on Mars, Lockheed Martin or Elon Musk?

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

Comments (3)
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  1. Russ October 22 at 4:37 pm GMT

    Where was this vision 20 years ago? Sounds like Lockhead Martin is more interested in capturing a portion of NASA’s budget instead of doing something for humankind.

  2. urgelt October 22 at 8:50 pm GMT

    This is dead on arrival.

    SLS is obsolete even before it flies. A single launch will be priced at near one billion dollars, and the launch stages are single-use, discarded after payload delivery into Earth orbit.

    Falcon Heavy, which will be reusable and is scheduled for test flights within a few months (much sooner than SLS), could deliver roughly 5-7 times the payload into Earth orbit for the cost of one SLS launch. And one SLS launch won’t get nearly enough stuff into Earth orbit to assemble the mission to put a space station in orbit around Mars. They’re talking about a bunch of launches at nearly a billion a pop. There’s just no way even the corrupt Congress we have can justify spending that money in that way, not when cheaper launch options are available.

    Neither ULA nor Lockheed has any clear idea of how to get from their Mars-orbiting space station to the ground. It’s just a lot of hand-waving: maybe someone will go down if they build this orbital station, somehow. Orion can’t go down. Lockheed has announced nothing that can.

    Astronauts who participate in this mad scheme will spend *years* in zero-G. Their bodies won’t benefit for a single minute from Mars’ 40% of Earth gravity. And what do we get out of having humans there? We already have machines in orbit looking at Mars – and could put hundreds more there for the cost of building this orbital space station and using it once.

    The sole advantage of operating from Mars orbit is that for brief periods (measured in minutes), astronauts in orbit will be able to teleoperate robotic machines on the surface with less lag time than operators on Earth will experience. But if the astronauts are on the ground in shelters, they’ll be able to teleoperate machines as much as they like. If teleoperation is the goal, we need a plan to put humans on the ground, not in orbit. Humans on the ground will be able to do hands-on science, too. Humans in orbit around Mars are no closer to picking up a rock, slicing it and putting it under a spectrometer than they are here on Earth.

    There’s just nothing to recommend this plan other than it will pad Lockheed’s profits if Congress and NASA buy in. From a taxpayer’s perspective, this is the worst Mars plan conceivable given current tech.

  3. Graeme Kilshaw October 24 at 6:21 pm GMT

    The Department of Mars Colonization: http://www.bit.do/marscol
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/897e5b6427626acde0f22883bfa22a707ccf4e00fcb8ee1c9bdc7f1ed82d26ef.jpg

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