NASA has been planning its journey to Mars for several years and has developed different technologies that will allow humans to reach the red planet and give humanity a better understanding of space survival and Martian habitat.

Existing technologies have been developing in order to accomplish the mission to the red planet, yet NASA’s dateline for the exploration was scheduled somewhere in the 2030s.

On Thursday, Lockheed Martin announced the creation of the “Mars Base Camp” which will allow investigators and astronauts to reach and study the red planet as early as in 2028.

NASA's journey to Mars is closer with the 'Mars Base Camp' design. Credit: NASA by Ren Wicks / Popular Science
NASA has been planning its journey to Mars for several years and has developed different technologies that will allow humans to reach the red planet. Concept drawing of the first human explorers on Mars Credit: NASA by Ren Wicks / Popular Science

Lockheed Martin is an American global company focused on aerospace defense, security and advanced technology for space exploration, currently working for  NASA’s “Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (Next STEPS)”  a program focused on developing pertinent technologies for space travel.

“The concept is simple: transport astronauts from Earth to a Mars-orbiting science laboratory where they can perform real-time scientific exploration, analyze Martian rock and soil samples, and confirm the ideal place to land humans on the surface,” said the company in a press release.

The concept of an orbiting science station or ‘Mars base camp’ could lead human researchers on the red planet closer to the idea of sending humans to live on the planet in 2030.

Existing technology for future research

Some may wonder why NASA’s mission of sending humans to Mars is as far as in the 2030’s, and the answer is… technology. Currently, the world is working on future technologies that could make the investigation of the red planet easier, as well as allowing a safer and more suitable environment for astronauts.

With the concept of the “Mars base camp”, existing technology could be used to provide facilitations to both astronauts and investigators on the red planet.

Lockheed Martin has managed to create the concept of the orbiting lab with four current technologies that include Orion capsule, Space Launch System, Habitats, and Solar Electric Propulsion.

Orion is an existing deep-space crew capsule that has been built with a deep space life support, navigation and communication that would work ideally on the orbiting lab.

The Space Launch System was created to lift super heavy labs, habitats, and supplies to Mars while habitats were built by NASA and Lockheed Martin to give astronauts room to live and work on  investigations.

The Solar Electric Propulsion system is a technology that has already been used on satellites and would play the key role to pre-position supplies near the Mars orbit.

Structure of the orbiting lab

“Mars Base Camp” will be launched in different times to then assemble it  in front of Mars orbit to provide a home for six astronauts that will be launched on the Orion space crew capsule to give life to the laboratory.

The architecture of the lab will be composed by Orion’s capsule at the left end of the structure attached to liquid oxygen and hydrogen tanks that will hold fuel for the journey to and from the red planet, they will also serve as radiation shielding for the crew quarters.

At the center of the lab will be located the habitat that allows extra space for both living and working on experiments, nearby the habitat astronauts will be provided with the ‘Mars laboratory’ which will contain scientific equipment, sample analysis, tools and other workstations.

The laboratory will also be equipped with stations to control pilot drones and rovers on the surface of Mars.

The orbiting lab will be equipped with solar arrays to generate power to the spacecraft and provide solar electric propulsion. Radiators will also be attached to the lab to keep sensitive electronics and living quarters cool.

At the right end of the cylindrical structure will be located another Orion capsule with the command and control of the spacecraft, housing vital navigation communication, and life-support.

Cryo Stage Propulsion will be equipped in the laboratory to generate high-powered thrust to get the spacecraft from lunar orbit to Mars, also lets astronauts conduct excursions.

The orbiting laboratory will be a house for the selected astronauts for a 1,000 days mission expected to launch in 2018.

Concept drawing of the Mars Base Camp. Credit: Lockheed Martin / Popular Science
Concept drawing of the Mars Base Camp. Credit: Lockheed Martin / Popular Science

“Mars camp” timeline

According to Lockheed Martin, in 2018 will be launched the first Orion vehicle towards the moon, between 2018 and 2021 different parts of the laboratory will be launched to start the assembly of the structure.

In 2023 is expected to be completed the first part of the structure with the first solar panels and in 2027 the laboratory will start its departure towards Mars, to start in 2026 the first explorations on the Martian surface.

Researches on Mars surface

A series of studies and investigations are being constantly updated about the Martian surface and its components, even though further information will be gathered when the exploration teams start to analyze results, recent discoveries have brightened the minds of investigators.

For example water on Mars, since scientists learned that the red planet had possibilities of this human vital a lot of researches have been made. Recently a NASA planetary scientist explained the functions of the liquid on Mars.

Calcium Perchlorate can be found all over Mars surface at first researchers thought the salt was harmful to humans but further investigations have proven that it is, in fact, a resource.

“If you ate it every day for a really long time it could be probably not great but in relatively small quantities is not going to kill you. The salt is very wet since it sucks up water out of the air, so this is helpful for humans on mars since it releases water and gives off oxygen, so instead of being a toxic chemical is a resource,” said  Doug Archer, NASA Planetary Scientist

Source: Lockheed Martin