NASA wants to build another space station — but this one won’t live in a close orbit around Earth. Within the last year, NASA has begun planning for a much smaller astronaut outpost in orbit around the Moon, a new destination dubbed the Gateway. The idea is for this space station, which will be a fraction of the size of the International Space Station, to serve as a place for astronauts to live and train for excursions to and from the lunar surface.
A crucial piece of hardware needed for this Gateway will, of course, be habitats — spaces for a handful of astronauts to do research, exercise, sleep, and eat. But what exactly does it take to build a habitat for deep space? NASA has tasked six companies with figuring that out, through the space agency’s NextSTEP program. Through a public-private partnership, companies like Boeing and Bigelow Aerospace are creating and executing their own designs for modules that could house astronauts in the environment around the Moon.
Another one of those companies is Lockheed Martin, a long-time contractor for NASA located in Colorado. Lockheed is currently working on a cylindrical deep-space habitat that will provided about 882 cubic feet of livable space — the size of a bedroom for up to four astronauts to roam around in.
And just like designing a tiny home, Lockheed has gotten creative with storage. For instance, the design calls for water to surround the hull of the habitat, to be used as drinking water but also to be used as shielding for deep-space radiation. The habitat also has a treadmill on its ceiling; but, in orbit around the Moon, the microgravity environment means there is no ceiling. So every bit of exposed wall is used for a different purpose. The habitat will also include a work station, as well as sleeping bags for the crew and storage for food and other essential living materials.
In the third episode of Space Craft season 2, we got to visit a mockup of Lockheed Martin’s deep-space habitat at the company’s headquarters in Denver. However, what we saw was just for show: a glimpse of what the final design might look like. We also were able to use augmented reality and virtual reality to get a better feel of what the final look of the habitat will be like. Currently, Lockheed Martin is building its first prototype of the habitat in Florida, so that NASA can analyze its design by 2019.
Meanwhile, Lockheed is also building another key piece of spacecraft hardware for NASA, one that will be used to potentially transport astronauts to and from this deep-space habitat. It’s a capsule called Orion, and it’s become a big part of NASA’s plans for the future. We also got to test out a simulation of what it might be like to dock the Orion capsule to the habitat — what future astronauts will do to get to their deep-space home.