November 25, 2013
Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
NASA's Maven mission to Mars is symptomatic of the global effort to put humans there—ambitious, but constrained by tight funding that demands international collaboration to cover costs.
Increasingly, former competitors in the space arena are accepting cooperation as the only way humans will ever reach Mars, and are willing to drop short-term gain for long-term success.
“We should take the best stuff available on the Earth,” says Vitaly Lopota, president and general designer of Russia's RSC Energia, which builds all of Russia's human-spaceflight hardware. “Beyond Earth, in deep space, we will be on the same route, and we should jointly implement it.”
Maven—the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution probe—used a Russian-powered Atlas V 401 to begin its 10-month trip to the red planet. As it lifted off into a cloudy Florida sky Nov. 18, on its way to analyze where the water went on Mars, clean-room technicians a few miles away worked to prepare NASA's first Orion flight-test vehicle for a major European contribution.
Cleon Lacefield, Lockheed Martin's Orion program manager, said shortly after the Maven launch that the first load-bearing fairings designed to protect the vehicle's European propulsion system during ascent were due to arrive two days later. That hardware is to fly on a dummy Orion service module next September, launched on a Delta IV Heavy to test the capsule at reentry speeds near those it will experience returning from the Moon or Mars. The next Orion to fly after that will include the European hardware.
That unmanned mission, the first for the SLS/Orion stack, is currently scheduled for the end of 2017, and will mark the beginning of a “stepping stone” approach through cislunar space designed to take humans to Mars in the 2030s. Lockheed Martin had originally planned to build the Orion service module itself. It yielded to NASA's need to save money by bringing in the European Space Agency and EADS Astrium, its industrial supplier, as partners (AW&ST Jan. 21, p. 30).
“We really look forward to working with other industrial partners,” says Jim Crocker, Lockheed Martin vice president and general manager for civil space, listing meetings with industry partners in Japan, Russia and several European nations “in the last few months.”