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Lockheed Wants to Put a Base Camp in Orbit Around Mars, Complete With Lander

Outpost could be operational for crews in 10 years

Mars Base Camp is Lockheed Martin’s vision for sending humans to Mars in about a decade. The Mars surface lander called the Mars Accent Descent Vehicle (MADV) is a single-stage system that uses Orion systems as the command deck. It could allow astronauts to explore the surface for two weeks at a time before returning back to the Mars Base Camp in orbit around Mars. Credits: Lockheed Martin

Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia, officials with Lockheed Martin today revealed their plans for what they believe is a sound, safe and compelling mission architecture to help NASA get humans to Mars within a decade, using a concept centered around an orbiting outpost they call the Mars Base Camp.

“Sending humans to Mars has always been a part of science fiction, but today we have the capability to make it a reality,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin.

“Partnered with NASA, our vision leverages hardware currently in development and production. We’re proud to have Orion powered-on and completing testing in preparation for its Exploration Mission-1 flight and eventually its journey to Mars.”

Plans for building the outpost align with NASA’s skyscraper-tall Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft and the agency’s plans for a Deep Space Gateway orbiting the moon, which will serve as a critical staging point for missions to the lunar surface and deeper into space, such as to asteroids and Mars in the 2030s.

Mars Base Camp and Lander. Credit: Lockheed Martin

The first launch of an SLS and Orion, Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), which will be a shakedown flight to the moon and back of the integrated SLS/Orion system, won’t launch until 2019, with the first crewed Orion mission to lunar orbit occurring around 2-3 years later.

Lockheed is also the prime contractor for Orion.

Such a lunar outpost will offer a true deep space environment for astronauts to gain experience and have opportunity to build and test the systems needed for the very challenging missions that will follow, but will also offer the ability for crews to return to Earth if needed in days – rather than weeks or months on missions further into space (such as Mars).

Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed is actually already developing a prototype habitat for the gateway under a contract with NASA ((which you can read about on AvGeekery HERE), taking the old Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), once used in the payload bay of the space shuttles to transfer cargo to the ISS, and refurbishing it to prototype their deep space habitat in the Space Station Processing Facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

And although some components of the Mars Base Camp’s architecture will be pre-positioned in Mars orbit ahead of time, the Mars Base Camp would ultimately be built up at the Deep Space Gateway, away from Earth’s gravity, before being deployed to the Red Planet.

Lockheed’s lander for the Mars Base Camp, called the Mars Accent Descent Vehicle (MADV). Credit: Lockheed Martin

An Orion spacecraft would serve as the heart of the outpost, same as the Deep Space Gateway.

In addition to an orbiting base camp, Lockheed also envisions a reusable, single-stage lander for the outpost called a Mars Accent Descent Vehicle (MADV), using Orion avionics and systems as its command deck and powered by engines using liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen propellant, both of which will be generated from water.

Above, watch a video animation of it all in action.

The lander would be capable of conducting surface mission as long as two weeks in length, with up to four astronauts, before returning to the orbiting outpost where it would be refueled and readied for another mission.

Follow Mike Killian on Instagram and Facebook, @MikeKillianPhotography 

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Written by Mike Killian

Mike Killian

Killian is an aerospace photographer and writer, with a primary focus on spaceflight and military and civilian aviation. Over the years his assignments have brought him onboard NASA's space shuttles, in clean rooms with spacecraft destined for other worlds, front row for launches of historic missions and on numerous civilian and military flight assignments.

When not working the California-native enjoys spending time with his family, traveling, storm chasing, producing time-lapses and shooting landscape and night sky imagery, as well as watching planes of course.

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