Lockheed Martin has unveiled an ambitious proposal for a new spacecraft that would be used to resupply the International Space Station, launch commercial payloads, and support deep-space missions. The craft is composed of two main parts, a servicing vehicle named Jupiter and a cargo container called the Exoliner. What sets Lockheed's plan apart from others' is that it would have Jupiter remain in orbit after the ISS takes its supplies from the Exoliner. While in orbit, it might be able to perform commercial functions — theoretically lowering the cost of each launch for NASA — and then eventually return to the ISS when the next Exoliner filled with cargo is launched. That also means that its Jupiter craft would only need to be sent up once, lowering the cost of successive launches.
Lockheed wants to make shipping routes from the Moon to Mars
Jupiter and the Exoliner are Lockheed's proposal to NASA for a program meant to resupply the ISS with food and other equipment. SpaceX and Orbital ATK won the first set of contracts for resupplying the station back in 2009, but they only run through 2016. Now a number of companies are competing for the second round of contracts, according to The Washington Post, and NASA is expected to decide on a winner in June. Lockheed, aside from emphasizing that Jupiter and the Exoliner are based on tested hardware, is also trying to establish its proposal as more advanced. It wants to create shipping lanes between the Moon and Mars, according to Aviation Week, and it compares the system in a video to the first railroad to stretch from the United States' east coast to its west coast.
The advanced capabilities that Lockheed points two are, primarily, twofold. First, it says that the system can optionally be used to launch commercial payloads, like satellites. According to Aviation Week, Lockheed's plan would actually share commercial profits with NASA, if the space agency chose to include those payloads. Second, Lockheed says that Jupiter and the Exoliner are designed with the ability to support manned, interplanetary missions in mind. According to the Post, the system is big enough to carry humans and hold equipment needed for extended stays, such as a treadmill. Lockheed suggests that they could be used as the start of remote outposts. Of course, that's beyond the scope of what NASA needs right now, but it certainly sounds cooler.