Lockheed Martin has unveiled its concept for a crewed space station to orbit Mars for the purpose of collecting data and images of the Red Planet in anticipation of a future landing by human astronauts.
The company’s researchers first revealed the idea a year ago, then followed up with a more detailed description of the station, dubbed Mars Base Camp, at the 48th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference (LPSC) held this year from March 21-25.
Since first introducing the concept last year, Lockheed Martin researchers have been refining the idea by consulting with scientists and engineers representing numerous institutions.
Mars Base Camp would function as an orbiting science laboratory much like the ISS. Proximity to Mars would enable more immediate decision making in terms of sites to study, locations from which to take samples, rover repair, and new high-tech explorations techniques using tiny robots and virtual technology.
Current plans call for the Mars Base Camp to begin operations in 2028, with astronauts spending a year on board.
An elliptical orbit would enable the station to “hover” over specific regions of the Martian surface for extended periods of time while robots and aerial drones controlled by scientists on board could study these regions.
“The discussion we’re having here at the meeting is, how best can scientific discovery be enabled by having scientists in close proximity to mobile hardware on the surface of Mars or in the Martian atmosphere,” Martin Lockheed chief engineer for civil space Steve Jolly told the website Space.com during the LPSC conference.
“We could be operating rovers on the surface in joystick mode from the Mars Base Camp, as opposed to the way we control rovers today,” Lockheed Martin Mars Base Camp chief scientist Ben Clark emphasized to Space.com representatives.
Project scientists envision using tiny robots with small sensors to explore lava tubes, rappel off cliffs, and study areas not accessible with standard technology.
Using virtual reality, astronaut-scientists could use digital data to reconstruct detailed maps of large areas and even “explore” such areas by sending avatars into them virtually while wearing VR goggles.
A reusable transport system using a single-stage lander and ascent system could carry astronauts to and from the surface, enabling two-week exploration missions that could be aborted at any time should something go wrong.