NASA Selects Lockheed Martin For Mars Orbiter Concept Study

The Lockheed Martin-built MAVEN spacecraft is currently in orbit around Mars. Image Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The Lockheed Martin-built MAVEN spacecraft is currently in orbit around Mars. Image Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

July 18, 2016 – NASA has selected Lockheed Martin to conduct concept studies for a potential future Mars orbiter mission. Such a mission would continue key capabilities including telecommunications and global high-resolution imaging in support of the agency’s Journey to Mars.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colorado, was one of five companies contracted for a four-month concept study. Other companies include The Boeing Company in Huntington Beach, California; Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems in Redondo Beach, California; Orbital ATK in Dulles, Virginia; and Space Systems/Loral in Palo Alto, California.

“We’re excited to continue planning for the next decade of Mars exploration,” said Geoffrey Yoder, acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

The concept studies will address how a potential new Mars orbiter mission could best provide communications, imaging and operational capabilities. They also will assess the possibilities for supporting additional scientific instruments and functionalities, in addition to optical communications. The orbiter concept under study would take advantage of U.S. industry’s technology capacities by using solar electric propulsion to provide flexible launch, mission and orbit capabilities.

The Mars Exploration Program Analysis Group, an organization designed to provide input to NASA from the Mars research science community, published a report six months ago on recommended science objectives for a Mars orbiter. These studies will provide input for assessing the feasibility of addressing these objectives. NASA also is pursuing partnership interest in contributing to this potential mission.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, is managing the concept studies under the direction of the agency’s Mars Exploration Program.

NASA is on an ambitious Journey to Mars that includes sending humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s. The agency’s robotic spacecraft are leading the way, with two active rovers, three active orbiters, the planned launch of Lockheed’s InSight lander in 2018, and development of the Mars 2020 rover.

Lockheed Martin has a long history of building Mars orbiters and planetary spacecraft. Three Lockheed Martin orbiters are currently in operation at Mars: MAVEN, Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the 2001 Mars Odyssey.