Mars One Foundation Picks Lockheed Martin to Develop First Landing Plan
It’s “Mars or Bust” for the nonprofit Mars One foundation, which seeks to lead the first privately funded mission to the Red Planet, and the path to the Martian surface will go through Colorado.
Mars One’s long-term goal is to create a permanent human settlement on Mars, but first it needs to prove it can land an unmanned demonstration and test craft safely on the surface. The foundation announced today it will rely on Lockheed Martin Space Systems to determine how to do that. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) Space Systems is based in Littleton, CO.
Mars One plans to launch its first unmanned mission in 2018, and it will be followed by other test flights. Four-person crews are expected to begin flying to Mars in 2024. The foundation expects to send crews every two years after that.
“Human settlement of Mars is the next giant leap for humankind. Exploring the solar system as a united humanity will bring us all closer together,” Mars One says on its website. “Mars is the stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe.”
The 2018 mission will test some of the technologies Mars One believes will be essential to build the settlement, said Edward Sedivy, the chief engineer for Lockheed Martin’s civilian spaceflight program.
Under the terms of the contract announced today, Lockheed Martin will develop mission parameters for the 2018 flight and create a cost estimate, Sedivy said. Later phases would include designing and building the spacecraft and controlling the mission. Lockheed Martin presumably will receive the contracts for those parts of the mission, Sedivy said.
If it does, that could be big news for Colorado’s aerospace industry. Lockheed Martin already controls four interplanetary missions, including three Mars missions, from Littleton, and the state is an emerging player in commercial spaceflight.
“The center of activity for the 2018 mission is going to be squarely in Colorado,” Sedivy said. “We’ll do all the spacecraft engineering, all the system integration, all the tests, and then we’ll fly the mission out of the Littleton complex as well.”
Even the rocket could be Colorado-made, with the nearby United Launch Alliance one of the leading contenders to construct the booster. The ULA is based in Centennial, CO, and is jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing (NYSE: BA).
It helps Lockheed Martin and Colorado that there are very few companies capable of planning and executing missions to space, and even fewer who could make it to Mars.
“We’re the only contractor that has successfully built a lander and put it on the surface of Mars. There aren’t many bona fide competitors in this particular market segment,” Sedivy said.
The initial landing operation and presumably the landing vehicle will be based on the Phoenix spacecraft Lockheed Martin designed, built, tested, and operated for a 2007 NASA mission. The Phoenix lander was designed and built at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Littleton.
There’s a lot of work to do before the mission starts, and Mars One’s goal is ambitious—and extremely expensive. The organization estimates it will cost $6 billion to put the first four-person crew on Mars. The Lockheed Martin study itself will cost $256,000, according to Mars One.
Mars One recently launched an Indiegogo campaign to try to raise money for the early phases of the project and to build awareness. To pay for the entire mission, Mars One plans to rely heavily on donations, sponsorships, merchandise sales, and possibly selling the rights to a reality TV broadcast.
Raising the money will be a challenge, but Sedivy said it is unlikely the federal government or European nations will put the money up.
Fundraising isn’t the only challenge. Mars One plans to get to Mars and stay, in the most literal sense. It doesn’t plan to be able to bring astronauts—make that settlers—home.
The funding model, the prospect of no return, and the technical challenges have earned the mission its share of skeptics, but it didn’t dissuade the more than 200,000 people who have applied to be part of the mission.
Meanwhile, the contract with Lockheed Martin gives the project some validation. The company is ready to go full throttle to be part of the team that puts humans on Mars, Sedivy said.
“The whole proposition is really exciting,” Sedivy said. “It’s hard to fathom how we are going to ignite a change in extraterrestrial exploration with government funded programs. The notion of being able to put together the first interplanetary mission [is exciting] and has the potential to be a new frontier in space exploration,” he said.
Mars One also announced it has picked Englewood, CO-based Surrey Satellite Technology to develop the communications satellite that will connect the lander and future base to Earth.
Trending on Xconomy
By posting a comment, you agree to our terms and conditions.