Orbital ATK Advocates Cislunar Outpost as America’s Next Step in Human Space Exploration
During testimony this afternoon to the
Frank Culbertson, President of the company’s
During his testimony, Mr. Culbertson emphasized that Orbital ATK’s Cygnus spacecraft is a strong candidate to be used as a habitat building block for the cislunar outpost and eventually to help achieve NASA’s goal of human exploration of Mars.
“The experience gained in the cislunar proving ground will lead directly to longer mission durations in deep space and eventually enable a manned mission to Mars,” Culbertson said. “But, in order to increase stay times in cislunar space and accommodate a range of technology demonstrations and scientific experiments, additional habitation space and consumables are necessary. A very good starting point for the design of a cislunar habitat is our flexible, human-rated Cygnus spacecraft which incorporates the knowledge gained from delivering cargo to the ISS.”
The initial habitat concept includes pre-positioning a Cygnus-derived module in lunar orbit using a commercial launch vehicle in 2020, to be ready for a first visit by astronauts on the inaugural crewed flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft in 2021. Additional habitat and research modules would expand the outpost following delivery by Orion/SLS and other launch systems in the 2022-2025 period.
This concept would serve a dual purpose: to establish the first elements
of cislunar infrastructure to enable expanded exploration of the Moon in
the 2020s, and to also provide a platform for technology research and
demonstration needed to enable human flights to Mars in the 2030s.
“Since many aspects of operations in deep space are as yet untested, confidence must be developed through repeated flights to, and relatively long-duration missions in, cislunar space,” Culbertson said. “Orbital ATK continues to operate our Cygnus cargo logistics vehicle as a flagship product, so we are ready to quickly and affordably implement an initial Cygnus-derived habitat in cislunar space within three years of a go-ahead.”