Lockheed Martin has become the U.S. government’s go-to company when it comes to solving the problems of tomorrow. Whether it’s cold fusion, hypersonic missile technology or fighter jets, Lockheed has a knack for securing high-dollar, and high profile, government contracts. Now, as the federal government sets about placing a new focus on orbital defense, Lockheed is setting its sights on dominating federal budget allocations in space as well — and not just those earmarked for the Space Force.
This week, Lockheed Martin unveiled their new spacecraft concept designed specifically to ferry astronauts to Mars, or more importantly, to serve as the long-term habitat for space explorers throughout a round trip that would certainly be measured in months, and potentially even in years. The concept, placed on display at the Kennedy Space Center, has been compared by those involved in the program to an RV for long-duration space flight: with a similar interior space and similar methodology employed to make almost everything within the ship serve multiple purposes for the sake of efficiency.
“You think of it as an RV in deep space,” said Bill Pratt, the program’s manager. “When you’re in an RV, your table becomes your bed, and things are always moving around, so you have to be really efficient with the space. That’s a lot of what we are testing here.”
Of course, despite Lockheed’s success in securing contracts, a common criticism levied at the technology giant pertains to the massive cost overruns that have come to define many defense endeavors in recent years. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, for instance, is still plagued with concerns not only about its capabilities as an aircraft but about the immense cost associated with operating the most expensive weapons platform ever devised. Seemingly aware of this growing perception, Pratt made a point to discuss the ways Lockheed has repurposed existing technologies within the new spacecraft to make it as economically viable as possible.
“We want to get to the moon and to Mars as quickly as possible, and we feel like we actually have a lot of stuff that we can use to do that,” he explained, pointing out that the cheaper the program is to develop, the more quickly NASA will be able to achieve its objectives within existing budgetary models.
Lockheed plans to ferry astronauts into orbit using the forthcoming Orion capsule, likely powered by NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which when finally finished will be the most powerful rocket ever to see operational use. From there, astronauts will board Lockheed’s space RV from the Deep Space Gateway, the space station NASA plans to put in orbit around the moon as they stop funding the International Space Station (currently, it’s expected to cost about a billion dollars to destroy it). This strategy offers quite a bit of insight into Lockheed’s anticipated timeline: the SLS is currently amid a long slew of delays, with many expecting it won’t have its first test launch for years to come. The use of the Deep Space Gateway pushes Lockheed’s plans back even further — as this system would rely on an entire space station already in orbit around the moon.
It seems then that no one, to include Lockheed Martin, believes mankind will be making a break for the moon any sooner than the 2030s. That is of course unless private companies like SpaceX can beat them to it. SpaceX CEO claims he’ll begin testing rockets for a trip to Mars as soon as 2019.