Lockheed Martin has completed the initial ground prototype for a cislunar habitat that is expected to support Nasa’s Gateway planned Moon-orbiting space station.

Designed and built as a part of Nasa’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) Phase II study contract, the prototype is said to be compatible with the Gateway architecture.

According to Lockheed, the habitat is designed to help the space agency to study and assess the critical capabilities needed to build a sustainable presence around the Moon.

The habitat is also capable of supporting human exploration in deep space, the company noted.

Lockheed built the full-scale prototype, known as Habitat Ground Test Article (HGTA), inside of a repurposed shuttle-era cargo container, called a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM), at Kennedy Space Center.

“Throughout the design and engineering process of this high-fidelity prototype, we have kept the diversity of missions top-of-mind.”

The MPLM was modified using rapid prototyping and modern design tools such as virtual and augmented reality in order to accommodate science missions and personal needs of future astronauts.

The team also studied how to apply the same deep-space capabilities that are incorporated into the Orion spacecraft.

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Lockheed Martin Space NextSTEP programme manager Bill Pratt said: “Throughout the design and engineering process of this high-fidelity prototype, we have kept the diversity of missions top-of-mind.

“By building modularity in from the beginning, our design can support Lunar orbit and surface science missions, along with commercial operations, all while accelerating the path to the Moon.”

The team also leveraged Lockheed’s experience of operating autonomous interplanetary robotic missions, including OSIRIS-REx and InSight, to add robotic capabilities to the module’s operations.

The prototype will soon be delivered to the Nasa NextSTEP team for assessment.

As part of the evaluation, a team of Nasa astronauts will live and work inside the prototype later this month to assess the layout and provide feedback.

Additionally, the test team will evaluate the overall design and the standards and common interfaces such as the International Docking System Standard (IDSS).

Following the completion of the testing, the prototype will be handed over to Lockheed for further optimisation.

Apart from enabling a sustained presence around the Moon, the Gateway project seeks to develop and deploy critical infrastructure to support operations on the lunar surface and at other deep space destinations.

The project will also support human crewed missions to cislunar space.

Last month, Canada became the first nation to offer support for the Nasa-led Lunar Gateway project.