Lockheed Martin To Propose 2028 Orbiting "Mars Base Camp" Today

Lockheed Martin To Propose 2028 Orbiting "Mars Base Camp" Today

Lockheed Martin will announce today a proposal to send six people to Mars in 2028 using two of the company’s Orion capsules.  They would not try to land on Mars, but remain in Mars orbit living in a “Mars Base Camp” habitat and laboratory modules. Company officials are scheduled to speak at the Humans to Mars (H2M) summit in Washington, DC, today as well as at a congressional hearing this afternoon.

An article published yesterday afternoon in Popular Science outlined the concept, quoting former astronaut Tony Antonelli, now Lockheed Martin’s Chief Technologist for Exploration Systems.   Antonelli is scheduled to speak at H2M at 4:00 pm ET this afternoon.  Wanda Sigur, the company’s Vice President and General Manager for Civil Space, is on an H2M panel this morning and will testify to the House Science, Space and Technology (SS&T) Committee at 2:00 pm ET this afternoon at a hearing on deep space habitats.

The basic idea is for NASA to send six astronauts in two Orion capsules to Mars in 2028.  A larger habitat, laboratories and solar panels would be launched separately and assembled in space — the Mars Base Camp.  All would be launched using NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS). The astronauts would remain in orbit around Mars, teleoperating robotic spacecraft on the surface and conducting observations of the planet.

The idea of sending astronauts to orbit Mars before attempting to land on the surface is not new.  It was most recently championed last year by The Planetary Society based on a study conducted by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).  It proposed an orbital mission in 2033, which has literally become a bumper sticker for one member of the House SS&T Committee — Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-CO), who holds it up at many committee hearings on space exploration.  Whether he holds it up at today’s hearing or has a new one touting 2028 remains to be seen.

Remaining in orbit is much easier than landing, but some question the value of going
all the way to Mars and not landing.  While Apollo astronauts orbited
the Moon before landing, Mars is much further away — a 6-month one-way journey.   However, landing on Mars is a difficult task as illustrated by the “Seven Minutes of Terror” for the 1-ton Curiosity lander that arrived in 2012.  NASA officials often point out that much larger spacecraft will be needed for humans and they have yet to solve issues associated with landing 10-20 ton vehicles. 

For those in a hurry to get humans to Mars, an orbital mission could be more achievable, although accomplishing such a feat just 12 years from now would be quite a challenge technically and financially.  NASA is currently planning to spend the decade of the 2020s using Orion spacecraft to develop experience in the “proving ground” of cis-lunar space (between the Earth and the Moon) leading up to a one-year “shakedown criuise” in lunar orbit in 2029.  The idea is to test equipment and human adaption to long durations in space further from Earth than the International Space Station (ISS) before attempting the Mars journey.  ISS is in low Earth orbit and astronauts can return to Earth quickly in an emergency.  That would not be true from cis-lunar space and certainly not from Mars.

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