Lockheed Martin Plans Mars Base Camp

lockheed martin mars base camp
A concept of Lockheed Martin's Mars laboratory, due to be unveiled on Wednesday. Lockheed Martin

A laboratory orbiting Mars that would serve as a "base camp" for exploring the Red Planet is being planned by aerospace giant Lockheed Martin.

A concept design for the six-person spacecraft is set to be unveiled at the Humans to Mars conference in Washington D.C. on Wednesday, with the hope it could enter Mars orbit in 2028.

Orbiting Mars is seen as an important first step in human exploration of the planet, in the same way as it served as a precursor to the first human footsteps on the moon.

"We think that orbiting Mars is a necessary precursor to landing humans on the surface," Tony Antonelli, Lockheed Martin's chief technologist for civil space exploration, told Popular Science. "NASA has that in their plans, and we're coloring in the details."

mars base camp lockheed martin
A view from NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity shows part of "Marathon Valley" on the planet Mars, as seen from an overlook north of the valley in this NASA composite handout photo provided March 24, 2015. NASA/Handout via Reuters

Lockheed Martin is not the only private company to have Mars ambitions, with Elon Musk's SpaceX aiming to send an unmanned Dragon 2 craft to Mars as soon as 2018. Both companies will work with NASA, which aims to place humans on Mars in the 2030s or 2040s.

The spacecraft designed by Lockheed Martin includes living quarters for the crew, solar arrays to generate power and a laboratory that can be used to carry out experiments on soil samples and assess potential landing spots.

Astronauts would also be able to control drones and rovers on the surface of Mars in real-time from the laboratory, which currently is limited by the 20-minute signal delay between Mars and Earth.

"We think that putting scientists with laboratories right there in Mars orbit will allow them, in just a few months, to accomplish more science that we've been able to accomplish in the past 40 years," Antonelli said.

"When I was a child growing up thinking this would be a cool profession, this was the kind of mission that I thought about doing. I thought, we've been able to send people to the moon, now the next generation—which I thought would be mine—was going to be on that journey to Mars."