Dutch non-profit organisation Mars One claiming to establish a permanent human colony on Mars by mid-2020s has signed contracts with Lockheed Martin and the Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) to develop mission concepts.
Mars One is working on a much more ambitious time line than the world’s leading space agencies that consider a manned mission to Mars in 2030s or 2040s. Instead of relying on governmental funding, the initiative has launched a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo to raise financial resources for the mission that aspires to become the first large-scale privately-funded space mission.
While Lockheed Martin has been contracted to build an unmanned robotic lander and rover to be launched to Mars as part of a technology-testing demonstration mission in 2018, British company SSTL will provide a communications satellite to support the rover.
“We’re very excited to have contracted Lockheed Martin and SSTL for our first mission to Mars,” said Bas Lansdorp, Mars One Co-founder and CEO. “Both are significant players in their field of expertise and have outstanding track records. These will be the first private spacecraft to Mars and their successful arrival and operation will be a historic accomplishment.”
The Lockheed Martin lander will be based on the 2007 NASA Phoenix design and is expected to demonstrate some of the technologies required for the 2023 manned mission.
“This will be the first private mission to Mars and Lockheed Martin is very excited to have been contracted by Mars One,” said Ed Sedivy, Civil Space chief engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. “Having managed the Phoenix spacecraft development, I can tell you, landing on Mars is challenging and a thrill and this is going to be a very exciting mission,” he said, pointing to the company’s experience with earlier Martian missions of Nasa.
Similarly to the Phoenix rover, Mars One’s vehicle will be designed to be able to scoop up Martian soil. It will also attempt to extract water from the soil - a technology considered key for long-term human survival on the Red Planet.
In a separate experiment, the robot will try to demonstrate the deployment and operation of thin-film solar panels on the surface, whereas a camera mounted on the lander will be constantly recording the situation.
The SSTL-designed communications satellite will be placed in a Mars synchronous orbit and will relay data including the live video feed from the lander to Earth.
“SSTL believes that the commercialisation of space exploration is vital in order to bring down costs and schedules and fuel progress,” said Sir Martin Sweeting, Executive Chairman of SSTL. “This study gives us an unprecedented opportunity to take our tried and tested approach and apply it to Mars One’s imaginative and exhilarating challenge of sending humans to Mars through private investment.”
The demonstration mission has originally been scheduled for 2016. However, Mars One said the postponement would provide more time for the spacecraft development. The company also hopes to incite interest of STEM students and universities to take part in its competitions, offering the winner a chance to place an experiment aboard Mars One’s spacecraft.