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Scientists are developing a deep space habitat for NASA that would keep astronauts safe during long-duration missions by providing critical communications, life support and autonomous navigation. Refurbishing an old cargo container used to transfer essentials to the International Space Station (ISS), US-based aerospace company Lockheed Martin is prototyping a deep space habitat for NASA at the Kennedy Space Center. The prototype will integrate evolving technologies to keep astronauts safe while onboard and operate the spacecraft autonomously when unoccupied. NASA recently awarded Lockheed Martin a Phase II contract for the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) habitat study. As part of Phase II, the team will continue to refine the design concept developed in Phase I and work with NASA to identify key system requirements for the Deep Space Gateway. The team will build a full-scale habitat prototype in the Space Station Processing Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and a next-generation deep space avionics integration lab near Johnson Space Center. "It is easy to take things for granted when you are living at home, but the recently selected astronauts will face unique challenges," said Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin NextSTEP programme manager. "Something as simple as calling your family is completely different when you are outside of low Earth orbit.
While building this habitat, we have to operate in a different mindset that's more akin to long trips to Mars to ensure we keep them safe, healthy and productive," said Pratt. A full-scale prototype of the deep space habitat will be built by refurbishing the Donatello Multi-Purpose Logistics Module (MPLM). Donatello was one of three large modules, flown in the space shuttle payload bay, that were used to transfer cargo to the ISS. The team will also rely heavily on mixed reality prototyping using virtual and augmented reality. Through this approach, the team can reduce cost and schedule, as well as identify and solve issues early in the design phase. "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," said Pratt. "Making use of existing capabilities will be a guiding philosophy for Lockheed Martin to minimise development time and meet NASA's affordability goals," he said. The work will occur over 18 months and will build upon the concept study performed in Phase I. Phase II will also focus on mixed reality and rapid prototyping, and working on concept refinement and risk reduction. The results will further the understanding of the systems, standards and common interfaces needed to make living in deep space possible.