Full-scale cislunar habitat prototype to be built from old Space Shuttle cargo container

Artist's concept of the NextSTEP habitat docked with Orion in cislunar orbit
Artist's concept of the NextSTEP habitat docked with Orion in cislunar orbit
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Artist's concept of the NextSTEP habitat docked with Orion in cislunar orbit
Artist's concept of the NextSTEP habitat docked with Orion in cislunar orbit

In a mix of the old and the new, Lockheed Martin is recycling a Space Shuttle cargo container to create a prototype deep space habitat for NASA. The full-scale experimental module to be built at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will be used to test technologies to provide astronauts with a safe living space that can operate autonomously when there is no one on board.

Part of the Phase II contract for the space agency's Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) habitat study, the new habitat module will upgrade the concepts produced in Phase I and identify key system requirements for the Deep Space Gateway. This space station is to be placed in cislunar orbit and serve as a jumping off point for missions to explore the Moon, Mars, and the asteroids.

Space stations aren't new to NASA, which has been developing and operating orbital habitats since the Skylab missions of the 1970s, but these have all been set in low Earth orbit, where home is only a quick re-entry flight away if an emergency arises. As the US moves back to manned deep space missions where the Earth is days or weeks away, these habitats have to be much more robust, reliable, and capable of operating autonomously between visits instead of being mothballed.

According to Lockheed, the prototype will be built using one of the three Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) that was used to transport cargo aboard the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station (ISS). To keep down costs and speed up development over the next 18 months, the team will use mixed reality prototyping with virtual and augmented reality.

In addition, the prototype will help to develop common interfaces and incorporate technology from Lockheed Martin-built unmanned deep space probes like Juno and MAVEN to allow it and the Deep Space Gateway to function autonomously. The Orion crew capsule will act as the command center for the Gateway and Lockheed is building a Deep Space Avionics Integration Laboratory at Houston, Texas to demonstrate new command and control interfaces between the capsule and Gateway. The lab will also be a place where astronauts can train for different scenarios.

"Because the Deep Space Gateway would be uninhabited for several months at a time, it has to be rugged, reliable and have the robotic capabilities to operate autonomously. Essentially it is a robotic spacecraft that is well-suited for humans when Orion is present," says Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin NextSTEP program manager. "Lockheed Martin's experience building autonomous planetary spacecraft plays a large role in making that possible."

Source: Lockheed Martin

Derek Howe
Good Ol' Lockheed, they will sell you their left over scrap, for a premium price tag. THAT, is why Space X is eating their lunch.
Not a word on how they plan to cope with radiation outside of the Van Allen belt, or how a deep space lab could do things that a LEO lab couldn't. I can understand using a cis-lunar station as a jumping off point if there is a supply line of fuel from the moon, but that is not the case. At present it would make much more sense to use a LEO station/depot as a jumping off point for deep space missions. Perhaps if the plan is to capture water-ice rich asteroids in lunar orbit and funnel oxygen and hydrogen to the station it could be justified as a 'jumping off point'. How is this going to minimize the astronaut's time in microgravity and high radiation levels? I think NASA should can this project for now and work more with the ESA to develop a lunar habitat, which could afford far better radiation shielding (Especially if built in a crater), higher gravity, and would vastly accelerate lunar exploration and resource development.
Martin Winlow
I never understood (or heard the reasons why it isn't practical) to re-use 2nd stages from rockets by attaching them together to form habitats rather than just letting them fall out of orbit and crash into the sea...
I think a permanent moon base needs to be tried before Mars. Most practical way could be, transport a (robotic) tunnel boring machine to moon piece by piece, next to a mountain. Later assemble it and bore a long tunnel cave. And later bring airtight doors to divide the tunnel into separate sections to use as a base.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
If He3 mining were spearheaded, this would move along very quickly.
fb36, on the subject of subterranean (sublunar?) habitat or base, why not see what we can do with lava tubes, which could be enormous on the moon. We could be scouring the moon with rovers, finding such resources, collecting the requisite seismological data to use them confidently. In short, we have a pitiful amount of information from the Lunar surface. I think goal-explicit Lunar surface missions (With plenty if images and video) could reignite many peoples passion for space exploration. We've put loads of money into exploring deep space, but lately there hasn't been much love for the moon. It's closer, and more familiar than Mars, Jupiter and the rest. I think the fact that it's relatively 'right there', and is the only heavenly body that is such a physical presence in our existence would give people an affinity towards exploration that just isn't there for most of the solar system.