Lockheed Martin has secured a phase two contract from Nasa under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) habitat study contract to build a full-scale habitat prototype of the space agency’s deep space habitat.

As part of the contract, Lockheed Martin will modify a Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM) cargo container, which was previously used to transfer cargo to the International Space Station.

The planned prototype will integrate advanced technologies to keep astronauts safe while onboard, as well as autonomously operate the spacecraft when unoccupied.

"It is a robotic spacecraft that is well-suited for humans when Orion is present.”

The prototype will also help reduce cost, and identify and solve issues early in the design phase.

A next-generation deep space avionics integration lab will also be built near Johnson Space Centre in Texas, US, under the new contract.

Lockheed Martin NextSTEP programme manager Bill Pratt said: “We are excited to work with Nasa to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware, originally designed for low-Earth orbit exploration, to play a role in humanity's push into deep space.

“Making use of existing capabilities will be a guiding philosophy for Lockheed Martin to minimise development time and meet Nasa's affordability goals.

“It has to be rugged, reliable and have the robotic capabilities to operate autonomously. Essentially, it is a robotic spacecraft that is well-suited for humans when Orion is present.”

It is expected to take more than 18 months to build the cislunar habitat prototype.

The second phase of the study will mainly focus on mixed reality and rapid prototyping, and working on concept refinement and risk reduction.

Image: Lockheed Martin artist rendering of the NextSTEP habitat docked with Orion in cislunar orbit as part of a concept for the Deep Space Gateway. Photo: courtesy of Lockheed Martin.