To deliver food, supplies, science experiments, and other items to the International Space Station (ISS), Lockheed Martin has submitted a proposal to NASA for building a special cargo ship. The company is interested in using this as a gateway for more in-depth human exploration of space.
As part of the proposal, the aerospace company wants to create a new Jupiter spacecraft based on similar designs used for interplanetary space exploration that have already been built. Included in this would be the Exoliner, a module capable of carrying necessary cargo.
According to the proposal, the Jupiter craft would delivery cargo to ISS and then remain in orbit, giving it the ability to make connections with Exoliner containers launched to ISS sometime in the future.
The Jupiter craft would be solar powered and by housing power, as well as computer systems and avionics, small satellites for NASA and private companies could be launched as well.
For several weeks or months on the next mission, another Atlas V would launch with a different Exoliner containing supplies. While in orbit, the rocket’s second stage would be deployed by the container, followed by meeting up with a different container filled with old items and trash. With a robotic arm, the two containers would be swapped.
The full cargo would deploy from the second stage, connect with Jupiter, and then return to the space station. The trash filled container would connect with the second stage and return to Earth by crashing into the ocean.
In between cargo deliveries to ISS, this spacecraft could also be specially outfitted with instruments for conducting scientific observation of the Earth, making it multifunctional. Although the primary focus consists of getting ISS needed supplies, the spacecraft would become a deep space habitat for astronauts.
Although Lockheed Martin is a front runner, it is not the only defense contractor vying for the NASA contract. The commercial space industry has grown significantly and become extremely sophisticated, something evident in Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Oribital ATK hired by NASA for resupplying missions. Currently, these spacecraft deliver experiments and food to the space laboratory that orbits Earth.
The contract, which is potentially worth billions of dollars, will be awarded in June. Boeing also submitted a bid for the project, along with several smaller space companies that have demonstrated ability in serving NASA’s space missions.