Mars 2020 rover heat shield fracture discovered
The heat shield planned to be used for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission developed a fracture during structural testing, a post-test inspection showed. NASA said this issue should not impact the mission’s launch readiness date of July 17, 2020.
According to the space agency, the mission team is already working to produce a replacement heat shield that will take the place of the damaged one. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, along with Lockheed Martin Space, is working to understand why the fracture occurred and to ensure the replacement doesn’t encounter the same problem.
The fracture, or crack, is along the heat shield’s outer edge and runs along the component’s border. It was discovered April 12, 2018, after it had undergone a roughly week-long testing phase carried out by Lockheed Martin Space.
In the end, the test achieved its goal: to determine the heat shield’s strengths—and weaknesses. During these checks, the heat shield can encounter forces up to 20 percent greater than what it would actually encounter during an entry into the tenuous atmosphere of the Red Planet.
The heat shield is the lower part of the “capsule” that makes up the aeroshell that both protects and guides the spacecraft through the Martian atmosphere.
The Mars 2020 rover is in many ways like the Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity, which touched down on the dusty plains of Mars in August of 2012. In fact, the heat shield that encountered the fracture was one of two that was manufactured in support of Curiosity’s mission.
Despite this anomaly, the heat shield’s mission is not complete. It will be repaired and put back to work to support Mars 2020’s testing regime.
The next steps in the process should see continued testing and development of the new heat shield. If everything goes as currently planned, the new heat shield, along with its thermal protection tiles, will be installed and the mission’s components shipped to Kennedy Space Center for continued testing, processing and eventually—flight.
This Mars 2020 mission is slated to fly from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Space Launch Complex 41 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 541 rocket. The reason for the Mars 2020 rover’s awkward moniker is that an official name has not been selected yet.
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.