Deep space missions in the future will take humanity farther and farther away from Earth. Last year NASA chose six United States companies to develop deep space habitat prototypes as part of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) study, demonstrating where astronauts might live and work. Aerospace company Lockheed Martin recently won a Phase II contract to develop a cislunar habitat, and they’re repurposing old materials to do so. They’ll be building a full-scale prototype at the Kennedy Space Center, utilizing what Lockheed Martin NextSTEP program manager Bill Pratt described as a historic piece of flight hardware.
Lockheed Martin will be constructing the NextSTEP habitat by refurbishing the shuttle-era Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, which was once used to transfer cargo to the International Space Station. Pratt said in a statement, “We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware, originally designed for low Earth orbit exploration, to play a role in humanity’s push into deep space. Making use of existing capabilities will be a guiding philosophy for Lockheed Martin to minimize development time and meet NASA‘s affordability goals.”
Lockheed Martin will also draw on virtual and augmented reality to work on the prototype, giving them the ability to catch issues in the design phase. They’ll work on the project over 18 months, building on their work in Phase I.
The NextSTEP habitat could be docked with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in cislunar orbit as part of the Deep Space Gateway. Orion will act as the command deck for the habitat, offering life support, communications, and navigation. But there will be long periods of time when no humans are present at the Deep Space Gateway, and Lockheed Martin had to take that into account in their work – they are also building a Deep Space Avionics Integration Laboratory near the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Pratt said, “Because the Deep Space Gateway would be uninhabited for several months at a time, it has to be rugged, reliable, and have the robotic capabilities to operate autonomously. Essentially it is a robotic spacecraft that is well-suited for humans when Orion is present.”
Via Lockheed Martin