Mars One Foundation Picks Lockheed Martin to Develop First Landing Plan

12/10/13Follow @MichaelXBD

It’s “Mars or Bust” for the nonprofit Mars One foundation, which seeks to lead the first privately funded mission to the Red Planet, and the path to the Martian surface will go through Colorado.

Mars One’s long-term goal is to create a permanent human settlement on Mars, but first it needs to prove it can land an unmanned demonstration and test craft safely on the surface. The foundation announced today it will rely on Lockheed Martin Space Systems to determine how to do that. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) Space Systems is based in Littleton, CO.

Mars One plans to launch its first unmanned mission in 2018, and it will be followed by other test flights. Four-person crews are expected to begin flying to Mars in 2024. The foundation expects to send crews every two years after that.

“Human settlement of Mars is the next giant leap for humankind. Exploring the solar system as a united humanity will bring us all closer together,” Mars One says on its website. “Mars is the stepping stone of the human race on its voyage into the universe.”

The 2018 mission will test some of the technologies Mars One believes will be essential to build the settlement, said Edward Sedivy, the chief engineer for Lockheed Martin’s civilian spaceflight program.

Under the terms of the contract announced today, Lockheed Martin will develop mission parameters for the 2018 flight and create a cost estimate, Sedivy said. Later phases would include designing and building the spacecraft and controlling the mission. Lockheed Martin presumably will receive the contracts for those parts of the mission, Sedivy said.

If it does, that could be big news for Colorado’s aerospace industry. Lockheed Martin already controls four interplanetary missions, including three Mars missions, from Littleton, and the state is an emerging player in commercial spaceflight.

“The center of activity for the 2018 mission is going to be squarely in Colorado,” Sedivy said. “We’ll do all the spacecraft engineering, all the system integration, all the tests, and then we’ll fly the mission out of the Littleton complex as well.”

Even the rocket could be Colorado-made, with the nearby United Launch Alliance one of the leading contenders to construct the booster. The ULA is based in Centennial, CO, and is jointly owned by Lockheed Martin and Boeing (NYSE: BA).

It helps Lockheed Martin and Colorado that there are very few companies capable of … Next Page »

Michael Davidson is the editor of Xconomy Boulder/Denver. He covers startups, venture capital, clean tech, energy, aerospace, telecoms, and whatever else happens above 5,280 feet. Contact him at mdavidson@xconomy.com. Follow @MichaelXBD

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