Protecting the newest Mars rover with an aeroshell

Space Science
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MYSTERY WIRE — NASA’s Perseverance rover is on its way to Mars. It’s expected to land on the red planet on February 18, its mission… to collect rocks for return to Earth – a key step in determining whether life ever existed at Mars. An essential component for landing is the heat resistant covering that will protect the precious rover from burning up in the Martian atmosphere during descent.

The Final Stage of the Journey

In order to stop the spacecraft burning up on entry into the Martian atmosphere, NASA partnered with American aerospace company Lockheed Martin, who designed it’s protective aeroshell.

Lockheed Martin have been making aeroshells crucial to NASA’s Mars landings for about 40 years, explains Lockheed Martin principal aeroshell engineer Dave Scholz.

“This is the tenth aeroshell that we’ve built for a Mars mission for NASA, we’ve been involved with every successful landing on Mars to date,” he says.

The aeroshell is vital to a successful mission, Scholz adds.

Without it, the lander would not be able to brave entry to the Martian atmosphere.

“The aeroshell’s critical because the lander would not be able to survive that environment on its own,” he says.

“The front half is the heat shield, that’s the part of the aeroshell that really takes the brunt of the atmospheric entry environment, the heat and the pressure.”

“The back shell includes a parachute and the balanced masses that create this offset center of gravity so that they can steer it.”

Lockheed Martin delivered the aeroshell to NASA in December 2019. Once the heat shield detaches from the spacecraft, Scholz’s team can finally breathe easy.

“That’s the point where we know that we’ve done our job and we’ve protected the spacecraft as it entered the atmosphere,” he says.

“Now it’s free to continue on.”

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Perseverance’s $3 billion mission is the first leg in a U.S.-European effort to bring Mars samples to Earth in the next decade.

“You’re watching history being made, basically,” Scholz says.

“It’s not the first time we’ve landed on Mars, but it’s a pretty huge event in the science world.”

Perseverance is aiming for an ancient river delta that seems a logical spot for once harboring life.

This landing zone in Jezero Crater is so treacherous that NASA nixed it for Curiosity, but so tantalizing that scientists are keen to get hold of its rocks.

“I feel like we are just dipping our toes in the water as far as exploring our solar system,” Scholz says.

“And it is a very good feeling to be a part of it.”

NASA’s Perseverance rover is expected to land on the red planet on February 18.

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