ATK technologies and capabilities played mission-critical roles throughout the entire journey of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” rover, which successfully landed Aug. 5 inside Mars’ Gale Crater.
As it starts its two-year mission, Curiosity will gather data to help assess whether Mars ever had an environment capable of supporting microbial life.
ATK contributed technical and manufacturing expertise from the launch last year, through the nine-month flight to Mars, during descent to the surface, and now in the exploration phase of the mission.
ATK’s Clearfield, Utah and Iuka, Miss. facilities built the lightweight composite heat shield, interstage adapter and boat tail sections of the United Launch Alliance Atlas V that launched Curiosity in November 2011.
ATK products supported the flight to Mars and the challenging descent to and landing on the Martian surface. ATK’s Commerce, Calif. facility designed and built five propellant tanks, two of which supplied propellant to cruise thrusters to guide the spacecraft on its journey to the Red Planet; the other three provided propellant to the descent thrusters that successfully contributed to the surface landing. ATK Engineering Services in Pasadena, Calif. supported the design development of the Terminal Descent Sensor, which guided the descent stage.
ATK engineering teams in Pasadena, Calif. and Beltsville, Md. also 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 instrument. CheMin is an X-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument designed to identify and quantify the minerals in rocks and soils. Another major role included contributions to the design and development of a suite of instruments named Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM). These instruments will analyze samples of material collected and delivered by the rover’s robotic arm.
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.
ATK Engineering Services in Pasadena, Calif. and Integrated Thermal Systems in Beltsville, Md. also provided support in the development of the thermal subsystem that protected Curiosity from the harsh environment it encountered on the Martian surface. At a design review, it was described as the most challenging thermal design ever seen.
“We are extremely proud to have played a role in this incredible achievement for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, two of our long-standing customers,” said Dianne Sosa, ATK vice president of Engineering Services. “Our employees dedicated years of planning and preparation to ensure mission success for this newest voyage of exploration on Mars. We congratulate the NASA team for a successful landing and look forward to the key scientific findings that will help determine the potential for life on Mars.”
“We are honored to have been involved on almost every JPL/Mars mission,” said Gary Kawahara, ATK vice president and general manager, Space Components Division, Liquid Propulsion Products. “ATK’s diaphragm propellant tanks have demonstrated their reliability and safety on Mars programs from Mariner to Viking in the 1960s and 70s to the most recent Phoenix Lander. ATK has a perfect track record of more than 5,600 total tank deliveries with zero failures. As the journey to Mars is now complete and Curiosity is safely on the planet’s surface, our job has successfully concluded.”
The Mars Science Laboratory is managed for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington, D.C. by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, in Pasadena, Calif.