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Lockheed Martin enters crowded race for NASA cargo contracts

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Mar 14, 2015, 6:42 UTC

Sen—Lockheed Martin is among the companies vying for a contract to fly cargo to the International Space Station for NASA, the company revealed on Thursday.

The proposal is separate from Lockheed’s ongoing partnership arrangements through United Launch Alliance, the joint-venture it operates with Boeing, to provide Atlas 5 rockets and launch services to two other bidders.

Like contenders Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corp., Lockheed also would use an Atlas 5 rocket to fly its cargo ship, which would be comprised of a reusable canister-like tug called Jupiter and a cargo carrier called Exoliner.

Initially, Jupiter and Exoliner would fly together aboard an Atlas 5 rocket and dock at the space station. At the end of the mission, the duo would undock, but could remain in orbit for additional missions, such as deploying small satellites.

Follow-on Exoliners would launch solo and be captured in orbit by the Jupiter tug and old Exoliner. Jupiter, which would be outfitted with a small robotic arm, would then swap the cargo ships and ferry the new load of supplies to the station.

Using the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas 5 launcher, the old Exoliner would deorbit and incinerate in the atmosphere.

Jupiter can be refueled and serviced in orbit, saving money on electronics and other systems. It is based on the spacecraft designed for NASA’s ongoing MAVEN mission at Mars.

In addition to carrying additional fuel for Jupiter, Exoliner could haul up to 1,500 kilograms of unpressurized cargo and up to 5,000 kilograms of pressurized cargo to the station. The module is based on the European Space Agency’s now-defunct Automated Transfer Vehicle cargo ships and would be built by the same manufacturer, Thales Alenia Space

Lockheed said its spaceship also could enhance and support future deep-space exploration expeditions.

The Jupiter spacecraft “opens up first of its kind commercial opportunities in space, including long-duration hosted payload and in-orbit servicing missions,” Lockheed said in a statement.

The competition for the second round of Commercial Resupply Service contracts also drew bids from Orbital ATK and Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, both of which won first round contracts worth a combined $3.5 billion. The companies propose to fly on Antares and Falcon 9 rockets, respectively.

Boeing and Sierra Nevada are offering unmanned versions of spaceships developed under a sister program called Commercial Crew. Last year, NASA selected Boeing and SpaceX to continue work on crew transport vehicles, with the aim of breaking Russia’s monopoly on station crew ferry flights before the end of 2017.

NASA expects to make two or more cargo resupply contracts in June.