The US defense and aerospace contractor Lockheed Martin announced at the Humans to Mars Summit that it plans to send six astronauts to Mars orbit by 2028. The spacecraft “Mars Base Camp” will orbit the red planet from where astronauts can study Mars closely – flying drones, remotely driving robots, and studying samples in real-time. They can also identify a suitable site for the future landing.
Lockheed Martin’s project makes sense
The Mars Base Camp would allow scientists to stay in the Martian orbit for 10-11 months straight. The orbit-first, put the foot on the surface later makes sense, as it will spread out the cost and risks associated with landing on the red planet in very first attempt. The United States followed the same process for moon landing through the Apollo program.
Lockheed Martin’s chief technologist for civil space exploration and former astronaut Tony Antonelli said it would help us accomplish more in just a few months from the Martian orbit “than we have in the previous 40 years.” The Mars Base Camp would launch in pieces on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) heavy-lift rocket. The SLS along with Orion capsule will make an unmanned flight in 2018 and another in 2023 in preparation for the eventual trip to Mars.
NASA yet to endorse the project
Lockheed Martin said all the pieces of the spacecraft will be assembled in space around the moon before the journey towards Mars. Other modules could be added to the spacecraft later to let astronauts land on the red planet and then come back to the Mars Base Camp for the return trip to Earth. The whole project will rely on technologies that have already been developed, or are currently under development.
NASA has not funded or endorsed the Mars Base Camp project, but Lockheed hopes that the space agency would consider the design as it would play a crucial role in colonizing the red planet. It takes about 20 minutes for a signal to travel from Earth to Mars, forcing scientists to drive rovers without immediate visual feedback. As a result, they risk missing some important features. The Mars Base Camp could do it in real time.