Lockheed Martin has completed work on its prototype cislunar habitat that will be used in designing and testing NASA's Gateway manned deep-space outpost. Built as part of the space agency's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Phase II study contract, the earthbound habitat will be used to explore key technologies, interfaces, and general livability needed for extended missions far from home.

Space stations of one sort or another have been orbiting since the early 1970s, but to date, all of these have been confined to low-Earth orbit. However, the planned Gateway outpost is another matter entirely when it comes to design and operation. By comparison, if the International Space Station (ISS) is a pontoon houseboat moored in a safe harbor, Gateway will be a weather ship moored in the middle of the North Sea.

Since building Gateway means essentially going back to first principles, Lockheed has built its full-scale prototype called the Habitat Ground Test Article (HGTA) as a laboratory for testing systems needed for manned deep space missions. It began life as one of three Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Modules (MPLM) that were to transport cargo aboard the Space Shuttle to the ISS, but has been extensively modified over the last 18 months, with design tools such as rapid prototyping, and virtual and augmented reality used to streamline the process.

According to Lockheed, the HGTA was rebuilt to use the full volume of the module, so it can be used for both science missions and the crew's personal needs. It's already been used to study how to apply the same deep-space capabilities built into the Orion spacecraft and the engineers have used experience from the company's work on autonomous unmanned probes like OSIRIS-REx and InSight to apply robotics to the module's operations.

Located at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the HGTA will be handed over to NASA's NextSTEP team for evaluation. As part of this a team of astronauts will spend the last week of March living in the module to assess not only its design, but also new, standardized systems like the International Docking System Standard (IDSS). The module will then be returned to Lockheed for further optimization.

"Throughout the design and engineering process of this high-fidelity prototype, we have kept the diversity of missions top-of-mind," says Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin Space NextSTEP program manager. "By building modularity in from the beginning, our design can support Lunar orbit and surface science missions along with commercial operations, all while accelerating the path to the Moon."

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