NASA's most advanced Mars rover Curiosity landed on the Red Planet on Sunday, Aug. 5 at 10:32 pm PDT. The one-ton rover, hanging by ropes from a rocket backpack, touched down onto Mars to end a 36-week flight and begin a two-year investigation. Composites were featured in some components of the launcher and the spacecraft.
The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) spacecraft that carried Curiosity succeeded in every step of the most complex landing ever attempted on Mars, including the final severing of the bridle cords and flyaway maneuver of the rocket backpack.
"Today, the wheels of Curiosity have begun to blaze the trail for human footprints on Mars. Curiosity, the most sophisticated rover ever built, is now on the surface of the Red Planet, where it will seek to answer ageold questions about whether life ever existed on Mars or if the planet can sustain life in the future," says NASA administrator Charles Bolden. "This is an amazing achievement, made possible by a team of scientists and engineers from around the world and led by the extraordinary men and women of NASA and our Jet Propulsion Laboratory. President Obama has laid out a bold vision for sending humans to Mars in the mid2030's, and today's landing marks a significant step toward achieving this goal."
Curiosity landed near the foot of a mountain three miles tall and 96 miles in diameter inside Gale Crater. During a nearly two-year prime mission, the rover will investigate whether the region ever offered conditions favorable for microbial life.
Curiosity returned its first view of Mars, a wide-angle scene of rocky ground near the front of the rover (see image at left). More images are anticipated in the next several days as the mission blends observations of the landing site with activities to configure the rover for work and check the performance of its instruments and mechanisms.
GrafTech International (Parma, Ohio, USA), a supplier of graphite materials, reports that it developed and manufactured the thermal solutions that were used in the rover’s heat shield, which protected Curiosity from the intense heat and friction generated during descent through the Martian atmosphere.
The diameter of the heat shield was 4.5m/14.8 ft —the largest ever built for a planetary mission. It was predicted that the heat shield could have experienced temperatures up to 3,500°F/1,928°C. The heat shield will remain on the surface of Mars forever.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems (Denver, Colo., USA) built the Mars Science Laboratory aeroshell’s heat shield and back shell. The aeroshell is the biggest one ever built for a planetary mission, and incorporates major innovations in both attitude control for guided entry and in thermal protection material.
GrafTech CEO Craig Shular says, “Since 1886, GrafTech has enjoyed a rich history of developing innovative graphite and carbon-based solutions to manage heat and conductivity issues for a number of industries and end markets. Our team continues to grow its graphite materials science expertise and, as a result, contributes to building GrafTech into a premier advanced materials company.”
ATK reported last fall that its Clearfield, Utah and Iuka, Miss., facilities (both USA) built the lightweight composite heat shield, interstage adapter and boat tail sections of the Atlas V lifter that lanched the spacecraft on its trip to Marts. These critical structures range in size from 10 to 18 ft (2.4 to 5.5m) in diameter. Click here for the original report.
Finally, Siemens reports that its CAD and product lifecycle management (PLM) software was used to design and simulate a variety of structures for the spacecraft and rover.