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11/29/2011 | 1 MINUTE READ

ATK composite structures at work on launch vehicle for Mars rover

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ATK facilities in Clearfield, Utah, and Iuka, Miss., built the lightweight composite heat shield, interstage adapter and boat tail sections of the Atlas V vehicle that launched the latest Mars rover into space on Nov. 26.

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ATK (Arlington, Va., USA) reported on Nov. 26 that its technologies and capabilities will play mission-critical roles throughout the entire journey of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which successfully launched on Nov. 26 aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA.

MSL carries Curiosity, NASA's largest Mars rover to date. The one-ton rover — with a payload 10 times more massive than earlier Mars rovers — will land near the base of a layered mountain inside Mars' Gale Crater for a two-year mission. Curiosity will gather data to help assess whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life.

ATK's Clearfield, Utah and Iuka, Miss., facilities (both USA) built the lightweight composite heat shield, interstage adapter and boat tail sections of the Atlas V. These critical structures range in size from 10 to 18 ft (2.4 to 5.5m) in diameter.

ATK's Commerce, Calif., USA, facility designed and built five propellant tanks that will power cruise thrusters to guide the spacecraft on its journey to the Red Planet, and the descent thrusters that will help it land safely on the planet's surface.

ATK engineering teams in Pasadena, Calif., and Beltsville, Md., USA, provided key technical support to develop a number of the science instruments aboard the mobile laboratory. They provided the detail design engineering and supported the fabrication, integration, and test of the rover's Remote Sensing Mast Deploy Mechanism as well as mechanical and thermal design and fabrication for the cornerstone Chemistry/Mineralogy (CheMin) instrument. 

ATK also provided support in the development of the thermal subsystem that will protect Curiosity from the harsh environment it will encounter on the Martian surface. At a design review, it was described as the most challenging thermal design ever seen.

The data gathered by Curiosity from rock and soil samples will help determine whether conditions are favorable for future missions that could send humans to Mars. The rover will use 10 science instruments to examine rocks, soil and the atmosphere. The mobile laboratory will carry the most advanced payload of scientific gear ever used on Mars' surface according to NASA.

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