NASA selected six companies that will design space habitats, taking a step further in planning the trip to Mars.
The manned journey to the Red Planet is supposed to happen sometime at the end of 2030. However, fourteen years of preparation may still be not enough for such a complex project.
The New Space Habitats
NASA experts say that the two essential requisites for the trip would be in-space propulsion and long-duration habitation.
The Orion capsule is not fit to accommodate crews for eight months, and the current technology cannot reduce the time of the travel.
The new space habitats will need to offer very specific conditions that would allow people to live and work for years without having supplies delivered to them from Earth.
To perform the difficult task of designing such a space habitat, NASA chose six companies that will collaborate in creating the design for the astronaut’s new home.
The fist prototypes and concept studies are expected in 24 months. NASA will use the ground prototypes to support the testing of integrated systems, to check the feasibility of operations and the suitability for human beings, and to define the overall system functionality.
Having a ground model will reduce the risks in testing the final flight systems and it will help identify the specific requirements and the common interfaces to be used on the trip.
The Next-STEP program
The Next-STEP program has the purpose of extending the knowledge and ability of deep-space exploration. The focus is on the area between the Earth and the Moon. All the needed technologies that will be used on the crewed trip to Mars will be beforehand tested in the 238.900 miles between our planet and our natural satellite.
The total value of the space habitat project is set at $65 million, which will be shared among Orbital ATK, NanoRacks, Sierra Nevada Corp, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Bigelow Aerospace.
All the six companies will have to join in the expenses and fill in 30% of the development costs.
The selected companies will help develop technologies that will be used not only in the distant trip to Mars but also in advancing commercial capabilities of the spacecraft situated in the low-Earth orbit.
The call for designs is not focused solely on companies, as NASA expects proposals from non-profit organizations and universities, the deadline for the first prototypes being set for the year 2018.
The program is managed by the Advanced Exploration Systems Division from NASA and uses public-private partnerships and new approaches that will help develop time-efficient prototypes, validate operational concepts and advance critical technical capacities.
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