Aerojet, a GenCorp company, announced Aug. 3 that its monopropellant hydrazine thrusters helped guide NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory to a successful landing on the red planet at 10:32 p.m., PDT, Aug. 5.
The much-anticipated landing delivered the rover Curiosity to the Martian surface.
Aerojet engines assisted with entry, descent and landing. The company’s thrusters also provided attitude control and trajectory correction maneuvers during the MSL’s transit to Mars.
MSL carried eight Aerojet MR-111C 1.0 lbf thrusters, eight Aerojet MR-107U 68 lbf thrusters and eight Aerojet MR-80B 800-lbf thrusters with a throttleable thrust range of >100:1. The 68 lbf and the 800 lbf thrusters supported the actual landing.
In June 2012, NASA reduced the MSL target landing area to about 12 miles long and four miles wide (20 kilometers by seven kilometers) on a site near the northern flank of Mount Sharp, inside Gale Crater on Mars. The landing timeline began with guided entry in the upper atmosphere of Mars and concluded with the sky crane drop-off of Curiosity and the remaining spacecraft fly-away.
This was the most complicated landing ever attempted on a planet.
“Aerojet joins NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in congratulating the MSL team on tonight’s historic landing,” said Julie Van Kleeck, Aerojet vice president of Space and Launch Systems. “Aerojet thrusters brought Viking 1 and 2 and the Phoenix Mars Lander to safe arrivals on Mars and we were confident that our MSL thrusters would once again help deliver success.”
The three different types of thrusters aboard the MSL were designed and manufactured at Aerojet’s Redmond, Wash. facility under contract to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The 800 lbf throttling engines were tested at Aerojet’s Sacramento facility.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. has trimmed the distance Curiosity will drive after landing by almost half, allowing the rover to reach the mountain months earlier. NASA determined it was possible to adjust landing plans because of increased confidence in the precision landing technology aboard the MSL spacecraft. Rock layers located in the mountain are the prime location for rover research.