Yawn. NASA and Lockheed Martin have partnered to re-purpose a leftover shuttle cargo module into a ground-based simulated interplanetary spaceship.
Lockheed Martin announced it will refurbish the Donatello multi-purpose logistics module (MLPM), transforming from it from its original, unrealized role as a supply conveyor for the International Space Station to a test and training model of a living area for astronauts working beyond Earth orbit. The work is being done under a public-private partnership between the aerospace corporation and NASA. “We are excited to work with NASA to repurpose a historic piece of flight hardware,” said Bill Pratt, Lockheed Martin’s program manager for the deep space habitat contract, in a statement.
…Over an 18-month period, Lockheed Martin will build upon its deep space habitat concept it developed during the first phase of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program by using virtual and augmented reality prototyping in an effort to reduce costs and schedule, as well as identify and address issues while early in the design process. The results, to be shared with the space agency, will help to further understanding of the systems, standards and interfaces needed to make living in deep space possible.
This is nice, but it is essentially make-work for Lockheed Martin and a waste of money. At this stage of our engineering knowledge, we need to fly our interplanetary spaceship prototypes. Building them on the ground can only provide a limited amount of new knowledge, much of which has already been learned from numerous very similar past ground-based experiments.
For example, why isn’t NASA and Lockheed Martin also partnering with SpaceX, contracting to fly Donatello on the Falcon Heavy? That makes a lot more sense, and would not cost a lot of additional money. In fact, it might be quite cheap, since SpaceX needs customers willing to gamble on its new heavy-lift rocket.