Lockheed Martin Gives Us a First Look at Its Reusable Mars Lander
Governments and private companies around the world are racing to get to Mars, and Lockheed Martin just released its own innovations for the Red Planet.
The company debuted a reusable, water-powered lander that will give humans the ability to explore Mars from an orbiting base camp. And, according to Lockheed Martin, they could have the system up and running as early as 2030.
Lockheed Martin, a go-to company for the United States' Department of Defense, said that the Mars Base Camp would function as a science laboratory orbiting Mars. The crew lander would serve as a go-between for researchers. The company made their announcement at the International Astronautical Congress.
"We designed a lander that can fuel in orbit, that has enough room to support a crew of four people for two weeks and then take off again," said Lockheed Martin's Robert Chambers. Chambers works as a senior systems engineer and helped spearhead the Mars Base Camp project.
"It looks a bit like Jules Verne, but it's actually more like an aircraft that we've flown in the past," he added. The setup will include preexisting technology from the Orion spacecraft. That system will largely form the command deck including navigation and comms systems.
"Orion makes the whole spacecraft more reliable, and gives the astronauts a safe ride home," explained Lockheed Martin in the video seen above.
However, Chambers noted one major change -- fuel.
He explained that Lockheed Martin wants to use cryogenic hydrogen to fuel the lander. The company said it anticipates a "water-based economy" on Mars, and want to use water to power the lander and the orbiting laboratory.
"We designed a lander that can fuel in orbit, that has enough room to support a crew of four people for two weeks and then take off again," Chambers said. That means that, in theory, NASA could fly three unique surface trips in a single Mars mission. Chambers also told CNBC in an interview that sending a crew on the very first mission is beyond feasible. Testing an unmanned lander only requires one of the three trips.
Ideally, the company will align its timeline with NASA's current proposal to get to Mars by the early 2020s. The NextSTEP program is NASA's way to develop the infrastructure needed. Lockheed Martin scored several large multi-million dollar contracts to help NASA build prototypes for its NextSTEP program.
Lockheed Martin is also looking to its other successful jets and aerospace innovations for help. Entry to the atmosphere remains one of the biggest challenges for any company -- government-backed or private -- to overcome. Lockheed Martin plans on using "aero braking," a strategy used on the SR-71 Blackbird. The Blackbird remains the company's most famous supersonic plane. The company will also use supersonic retropropulsion similar to what SpaceX's Falcon 9 uses with its rocket boosters. Lockheed Martin expects surface missions could last as long as two weeks without the need for refueling the lander.
Lockheed Marin remains one of many companies fighting to get to Mars first. SpaceX's Elon Musk laid out plans for an entirely new rocket program that he hopes will get the company to the red planet. Regardless of who gets there first, a major theme for the IAC this year is that a mission to Mars is closer than we might think.
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