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Lockheed Martin reveals surface landing vehicle for Mars Base Camp

By Brooks Hays
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Lockheed Martin reveals surface landing vehicle for Mars Base Camp
An illustration shows Lockheed Martin's design for its Mars lander, which would ferry crews to the Red Planet from its Mars-orbitting space station. Photo by Lockheed Martin

Sept. 29 (UPI) -- Mars Base Camp is the name for Lockheed Martin's planned crewed space station orbiting Mars. On Friday, the aerospace and defense company offered new details for its Martian space station, including plans for a surface lander.

The lander, dubbed Mars Ascent/Descent Vehicle, or MADV, would ferry space station crew members down to the surface of the Red Planet for brief expeditions.

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"Each surface mission could last two weeks with up to four astronauts, and return to the orbiting Mars Base Camp without surface refueling or leaving assets behind," Lockheed Martin explains on their website.

During a presentation at the International Astronautical Congress, held this week in Adelaide, Australia, Lockheed Martin engineers described the lander's supersonic retropropulsion system, which would use Mars-facing boosters to slow the lander's supersonic speeds as it approached the Martian surface. SpaceX's reusable Falcon 9 rockets used the same technology to safely land upright.

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Engineers said NASA's Orion deep space transport vehicle served as the starting point for the lander's design.

"We think you shouldn't invent anything new if you don't need to," said Robert Chambers, senior systems engineer at Lockheed Martin.

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The lander's engines would be filled by liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen propellant while docked at the space station. The propellents would be made by splitting water molecules using energy supplied by solar panel arrays.

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The aerospace company also shared an idea for another task-specific vehicle, the Water Delivery Vehicle, which engineers said could potentially be built by another aerospace company. The WDVs would fetch water from nearby ice-covered asteroids. Lockheed Martin engineers said they anticipated Martian missions to be fueled by a water-based economy.

The Mars Base Camp plans are being developed as part of NASA's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships program. Lockheed Martin was granted nearly $1 million for their participant in the first phase of the NextSTEP program.

Missions to the Red Planet via the Mars Base Camp would rely on NASA's Deep Space Gateway, the planned lunar space station. Earlier this week, Russia announced it would team with the United States in the planning and construction of the space station, which would serve as a jumping-off point for deep space missions.

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"Base camps are not a destination unto themselves," said Chambers. "They're a place from which you then set out -- in this case, to descend to the surfaces of other worlds."

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SpaceX's Elon Musk also announced plans for his company's own Mars mission. The SpaceX founder said he hopes to launch an unmanned Mars' mission by 2022 and a crewed mission two years later. He plans to pay for it by using the company's Falcon X rocket for international flights -- New York to Adelaide in 30 minutes.

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