It turns out that SpaceX’s Elon Musk is not the only person to have announced ambitious space plans at the space conference in Adelaide, Australia. Lockheed Martin has proposed adding a lander to its Mars Base Camp concept. The additional lander will not only give astronauts a way to access the Martian surface at will but also be adapted to lunar landing.

The Mars Base Camp as a gateway to the Martian surface

The Mars Base Camp is an idea by Lockheed Martin for building a space station in Mars orbit. The heavy-lift Space Launch System would be used to assemble some elements in Mars orbit, while others would be constructed in lunar orbit.

Astronauts would fly on an Orion spacecraft to the lunar orbit portion and then use it as an interplanetary spacecraft to fly to Mars and dock with the rest of the facility. The Mars Base Camp would be utilized for real-time reconnaissance of the Martian surface and analysis of Mars soil and rock samples brought up by robotic landers.

Adding a Mars lander

The Mars lander would be sent separately and could be used for multiple forays by astronauts to the Martian surface. The vehicle would have an aerodynamic shape and a non-ablative skin, the latter based on SR-71 technology. The lander would use its aerodynamic shape to dump most of its speed as it enters the Martian atmosphere and then uses rocket engines to decelerate the rest of the way.

The lander will allow crews to spend two or three weeks on Mars at a time. Since the rocket engines use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, the lander can be refueled using propellant refined from water.

Landing on the moon

With a nod toward the current desires of the international community’s, including the Trump administration, to go back to the moon, Lockheed Martin notes that the lander can access the lunar surface as well, despite its aerodynamic shape.

Later versions of the lander would trade aerodynamics, useless on the moon, for more cargo and crew space.

The bottom line

Lockheed Martin’s proposal, as well as the one offered by SpaceX, demonstrates that the private sector is stepping up where Deep Space Exploration is concerned. While SpaceX claims that it can undertake its Mars plans on its own dime, the Lockheed Martin concept is going to need NASA and international participation to succeed.

The United States government, as well as those of her allies, are going to have to make a long-term commitment to conduct deep space exploration and support the settlement of other worlds to make viewgraph plans into reality.