The Mars surface lander called the Mars Accent Descent Vehicle (MADV) is a single-stage system that uses Orion systems as the command deck. It could allow astronauts to explore the surface for two weeks at a time before returning back to the Mars Base Camp in orbit around Mars. Photo Credits: Lockheed Martin.

Mars manned exploration plan: at the edge of reality

Since its discovery, Mars caught the attention of humanity. Now we have the technologies to reach the Red Planet, but when we can do it? In this article, we will explore the incredible concept proposed by Lockheed Martin.

Humanity’s love for Mars goes pretty far back in time, it first began around the 17th Century when the Italian scientist Galileo Galileo discovered the Red Planet during one of his observations. In the years and centuries that followed, humanity increased its knowledge of the planet, but it was just in the second half of the 20th Century, while the Space Race was still ongoing, that the desire for exploration really kicked in! The human mankind sent many probes, landers, and rovers, some of which never arrived (ask the Soviets…) to the desired destination, but the real end goal is to finally set foot on that red soil!

Mars manned exploration plans 

In the past decades, many plans and proposals have been discussed: from the plan of landing a man on Mars in 1982 proposed by none less than Wernher Von Braun, to the famous “Mars Direct” presented in 1996 by Robert Zubrin, founder of The Mars Society. This last idea has been chosen as a base by a “certain” Elon Musk who, during the 67th International Astronautical Congress in Guadalajara (Mexico) in 2016, presented the first proposal of the ITS (Interplanetary Transfer System) later revisioned and renamed in… Starship! At the time, there was another company famous in the aerospace field, working on another proposal, different in many ways from the precedents: Lockheed Martin. The company, in 2017, unveiled its own idea at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide (Australia).

Concept of Lockheed Martin's Mars laboratory. Photo Credits: Lockheed Martin
Concept of Lockheed Martin’s Mars laboratory. Photo Credits: Lockheed Martin.

Mars base camp

“Mars Base Camp is Lockheed Martin’s vision for sending humans to Mars in about a decade. The concept is simple: transport astronauts from Earth, via the Moon, to a Mars-orbiting science laboratory where they can perform real-time scientific exploration, analyze Martian rock and soil samples, and confirm the ideal place to land humans on the surface in the 2030s. Mars Base Camp lays out a proposed technology road map to support NASA’s journey to Mars. This is a mission designed to be led by NASA and its international and commercial partners.”

Lockheed Martin, official website

The idea behind the “Mars Base Camp” is not a “flags and footprints” system, but to allow human exploration of the Red Planet on a near-term timescale, meanwhile establishing an infrastructure of reusable elements that enable sustainable, long-term crewed operations. The first mission will utilize this architecture, named Mars Base Camp 1 (MBC-1) which enable a crew of 6 astronauts to spend an entire year in Martian orbit performing a real-time telerobotic operation of rovers and unmanned aerial vehicles on the surface, and also performing crewed sorties to the surface of Deimos and Phobos.

Artistic representation of the Mars Base Camp with the Orion capsule orbiting in front of it and Mars in the background. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin.
Artistic representation of the Mars Base Camp with the Orion capsule orbiting in front of it and Mars in the background. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin.

This architecture also enables humans to become an interplanetary species and would return a sizable amount of scientific value due to the ability to do simultaneous, real-time crewed exploration of multiple areas in the Martian system. However, perhaps the greatest return on investment from the MBC-1 mission is the reusable infrastructure it puts in place to enable affordable, ongoing crewed missions to Mars of increasing scope and complexity.


Mars Ascent/Descent Vehicle (MADV)

“As valuable as orbiting missions are for science and exploration, we’ll eventually look to leave the base camp and descend to the surface.”

Lockheed Martin, official website

The Mars Base Camp surface lander concept is a reusable, single-stage lander capable of descending to the surface from Mars orbit using supersonic retro propulsion. Each surface mission could last two weeks with up to four astronauts, and return to the orbiting Mars Base Camp without surface refueling or leaving assets behind.

Artistic representation of how the MADV will landing and take off from the Mars' surface. Photo credits: Lockheed Martin.
Artistic representation of how the MADV will land and take off from Mars’ surface. Photo credits: Lockheed Martin.

Liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen engines handle the rest of the landing as well as takeoff back to Martian orbit. The vehicle weighs 30 metric tons dry and can carry 80 metric tons of propellant, with a total delta-v, or change in velocity, of 6 kilometers per second from its engines.

The lander uses Orion avionics and systems as its command deck and it is powered by engines using liquid-hydrogen/liquid-oxygen propellant, both of which will be generated from water.


What’s next?

The Mars Ascent/Descent Vehicle (MADV), shown in this artist's illustration, is part of Lockheed Martin's Mars Base Camp architecture. Photo credit: Lockheed Martin
The Mars Ascent/Descent Vehicle (MADV), shown in this artist’s illustration, is part of Lockheed Martin’s Mars Base Camp architecture. Photo credit: Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin unveiled the original architecture in 2016 and revisioned it in 2017. At the time, they believed that the system, which made use of the Orion spacecraft and other elements, could be ready to send people to Mars as soon as 2028! Ambitious? Not so much if compared with some more optimistic statements from Elon Musk!

Anyway, as of today, there are no other clues about it; however recently the excitement grew after an official tweet posted by Lockheed Martin.

That’s certainly not referring to Mars but certainly regards something a lot near to the Earth: the Moon! Considering Nasa is looking to give away other huge contracts for lunar landers in the near future as part of the Artemis Program after Artemis III is already signed, we better not be surprised if Lockheed Martin comes up with a MADV specifically designed for that task.

“The same lander could be used for lunar landings, even if it retains the aerodynamic shape not needed for lunar landings. It certainly lends itself to being used on the moon as well.”

Rob Chambers, Mars Base Camp designers.


Share this article:
Filippo Zamprogna

Filippo Zamprogna

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *