spacecraft carrier

The Shuttle Orbiter 101 “Enterprise” soars above the NASA 747 carrier aircraft after separating during the first free flight of the Shuttle Apporach and Landing Tests (ALTs) conducted on August 12, 1977 at Dryden Flight Research Center in Southern California. Astronauts Fred W. Haise Jr., and C. Gordon Fullerton were the crew of the “Enterprise.” The ALT free flights are designed to verify Orbiter subsonic airworthiness, integrated systems operations and pilot-guided approach and landing capability and satisfying prerequisites to automatic flight control and navigation mode.

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Lockheed Martin unveils dual-use ship to resupply ISS, aid crewed deep-space missions.

Lockheed Martin also threw its hat into the arena for the upcoming CRS-2 contract last week. The company, who is also the prime contractor for the Orion crew module, announced a two-component spacecraft that will not only fulfill the CRS-2 contract by resupplying the space station, but can also aid crewed deep space exploration.

Upflight mass to the space station - or how much cargo can be delivered - will be 6,500 kilograms of cargo - greater than any other cargo craft in operation today (only the Automated Transfer Vehicle and Space Shuttle could carry more, and those were retired in 2015 and 2011, respectively).


The Jupiter spacecraft and Exoliner cargo carrier will launch together on an Atlas V rocket. Once rendezvousing and berthing to the orbiting complex, Exoliner serves a capacity similar to a Multi-Purpose Logistics Module, becoming a temporary ‘spare room’ on the laboratory. After station operations are complete, the spacecraft unberths and rendezvous with a recently-launched Atlas V Centaur upper stage carrying another Exoliner module.

Jupiter will swap the spent module - full of trash and other waste materials - and pick up the fresh one. Once Jupiter refuels, the Centaur will then deorbit itself and the spent module while the new one rendezvous with the station.

Lockheed’s proposal offers partial reusability  in that only the cargo modules would have to be manufactured anew. Additionally, the company relies on proven technology that has already flown into space.

The Jupiter tug itself is based off of the MAVEN spacecraft bus, which Lockheed also built. The Exoliner module would be built by Thales Alenia Space, which builds the Cygnus Cargo Module and some modules of the International Space Station. MDA would build the Robotic arm needed to complete the cargo module exchange. They’re the Canada-based company that built CanadaArm 1 and 2, as well as DEXTRE. The United Launch Alliance will provide the Atlas V launch vehicle, which has a 100% success rating.

However, Lockheed hopes that Jupiter/Exoliner will serve more than just a cargo freighter to the space station. They propose a whole new space architecture based off of the dual spacecraft design, one which could support astronauts on deep-space missions.

With more than twice the habitable volume of Orion, an Exoliner module attached to the capsule could serve as additional workspace, living quarters and storage for missions to the Moon or asteroids. It could also potentially extend mission duration as it would have an independent supply of power generation, environmental regulation and consumables storage. 

In addition to Lockheed Martin, three companies have already confirmed they have submitted proposals to NASA for the CRS-2 contracts, which close March 21. SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell slipped an announcement Tuesday on their bid, but did not offer any further details. Sierra Nevada Corporation announced earlier this week its Dream Chaser Cargo Spacecraft, a cargo-variant of it’s lifting body spacecraft originally designed for the Commercial Crew contracts. It is also expected that Orbital Sciences will submit a bid, since they won the initial round of commercial cargo contracts in 2008.