Orbital ATK released a new proposal to develop a man-tended outpost in lunar orbit that could launch as early as in 2020. In addition to start operating by the time NASA’s Orion crew module is already immersed in its maiden mission. The main goal is to bring Americans back to the moon’s surroundings. As well as mark a huge step for space exploration in asteroids and eventually in Mars.

The company announced Wednesday its lunar-orbit outpost proposal at a hearing of the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Space.

Orion Pressure Vessel
Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians prepare the Orion pressure vessel for a series of tests inside. Image Credit: Phys

Frank DeMauro, said in an interview that being able to gain experience in cislunar space would be essential to make NASA’s Mars mission possible. It’s worth mentioning that DeMauro is Orbital ATK’s Vice President for Human Spaceflight Systems. The interview was held by Universe Today earlier this week.

The National Space Agency wants to send astronauts on a journey to the Red Planet in the 2030s. Therefore, trips to the moon’s vicinity in the 2020s will represent a big opportunity to test out and validate NASA’s technologies. Which represent in turn the technologies needed to sustain astronauts’ lives for extended periods of times. Which could be as long as 3 years.

The space firm aims at providing NASA with a habitat the agency could visit during Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), the agency’s first manned mission of Space Launch System (SLS), and Orion to the moon. The EM-2 lunar test flight will last for three weeks and could launch in August 2021, supposing that sufficient funding makes it possible.

Orbital’s lunar-orbit outpost would allow Orion missions to last for 60 days more than without such a habitat. The initial outpost would bring together the experience NASA Orbital’s astronauts and its international partners have gained in long-duration manned missions to the International Space Station (ISS).

The company’s President of the Space Systems Group and former NASA astronaut Frank Culbertson released a statement earlier this week. Culberston affirmed that America’s leadership in space will be extended to the cislunar domain through a lunar-orbit station.

Steps to make it happen

Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus. Image Credit: NASA
Inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a Cygnus. Image Credit: NASA

Orbital’s idea could be made tangible very soon because it consists of an upgraded version of the firm’s Cygnus space station resupply, which has been already tested, DeMauro told Universe Today.

“Our Cygnus spacecraft is the building block to become a vehicle for exploration beyond low Earth orbit,” DeMauro said, as reported by Phys.org.

He explained the work that has to be done to improve the service module in order to keep the crew safe and protected against the high radiation environment during long periods of time. Because the habitat will not be docked to the ISS, it would need an Environment Control and Life Support Systems (ECLSS) of its own.

Keeping it safe when it comes to set up a Orbital Station around the moon

DeMauro also mentioned the company has to look at the radiation protection subsystem, the thermal protection subsystem and power subsystems. Considering all of those are needed to support the vehicle for many years. He said more power is required in order to be able to support more science. As well as a propulsion system to reach the moon and keep the vehicle stable, DeMauro added.

All these aspects are currently being examined by the company to identify the changes it has to make and the most adequate techniques to achieve the short term goals. A commercial launch vehicle would carry the habitat elements to the moon, DeMauro said, according to the report by Phys.

Source: Phys.org