Lockheed Martin has provided a glimpse at the next generation of commercial spacecraft by revealing its proposal for NASA's Commercial Resupply Services 2 (CRS-2) program. The new cargo ships, which Lockheed compares to the US transcontinental railroads of the 19th century, are designed to not only resupply the International Space Station (ISS), but also support manned deep space missions, such as the first expedition to Mars.

NASA's CRS-1 program has achieved considerable success in recent years with SpaceX's Dragon and Orbital Science Corporation's Cygnus cargo ships making supply runs to the ISS. However, these are just the first step in an on-going NASA effort to promote commercial spaceflight. Now Lockheed is taking the next step with its plans for CRS-2, which were unveiled on Thursday.

A collaboration of Lockheed, Thales Alenia in Italy and Canada's MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates, the CRS-2 proposal consists of a reusable orbital vehicle called Jupiter, a cargo container named Exoliner, and a robotic arm. The idea is to create a system that is less expensive by millions of dollars per launch, more flexible, and with deep space capabilities.

The key part of Lockheed's CRS-2 proposal is the Jupiter module. Named after one of the locomotives present at the completion of the first line of the US transcontinental railroad in 1869, its architecture is based on the MAVEN Mars orbiter. Unlike other cargo ships, it's reusable, but is not designed to return to Earth. Instead, it would park in orbit and act as a space tug for cargo containers as they're sent up.

The second part is the Exoliner, which is based on the OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return probe. This includes a cargo container based on the Thales Alenia Space’s cargo carrier for the European Space Agency's Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) and is capable of handling 6,500 kg (14,330 lb) of cargo.

The third part of the system is a robotic arm for Jupiter, which is based on the Canadian-built robotic arm that's been used on the Space Shuttle and ISS for 30 years.

For a first mission, Jupiter and an Exoliner would be launched together atop an Atlas V rocket. This pair would rendezvous with the ISS and after the cargo mission is completed, Jupiter and Exoliner would leave the station to meet with another Atlas launcher with another Exoliner. The arm on the Jupiter would swap the empty and full Exoliners and the Jupiter would return to the ISS, while the Atlas and the old Exoliner would burn up in a controlled reentry.

In between flights, the Jupiter would park in orbit. The next Exoliner would also carry hypergolic fuel for the Jupiter to replenish itself.

Lockheed sees the new system as having applications beyond resupplying the ISS, including pre-positioning supplies of food, water, fuel, and equipment for manned deep space missions, and acting as a habitat module for manned missions, such as an expedition to Mars.

"We know how important it is to get astronauts on the ISS the supplies they need on time, every time," says Wanda Sigur, vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Civil Space line of business. "Our approach is designed to deliver a large volume of critical supplies and cargo with each flight, and do so on schedule. That’s why we’re bringing together flight-proven technologies that are reliable, safe and cost-effective."

The video below outlines the CRS-2 proposal.

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