ATK (NYSE: ATK) technologies and capabilities will play mission-critical roles throughout the entire journey of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), which successfully launched earlier today aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V launch vehicle from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 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 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 feet in diameter.
ATK products will also support the flight to Mars, the challenging landing on the Martian surface, and the scientific exploration mission of the rover.
ATK's Commerce, Calif. 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. 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. CheMin is an x-ray diffraction and fluorescence instrument designed to identify and quantify the minerals in rocks and soils. Another major contribution included 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.
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.
"I am extremely proud of our ATK teams for delivering mission success to NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, two of our long-standing customers," said Ken Reightler, ATK VP of Engineering Services and a former NASA astronaut. "The dedication and commitment from our employees over the past two years reinforces NASA's ongoing confidence in ATK to provide the highest level of engineering services support to the Mars mission."
"We are honored to have been involved on almost every JPL/Mars mission," said Gary Kawahara, ATK VP and General Manager, Space Structures and Components, Liquid Propulsion Products. "ATK's diaphragm propellant tanks have demonstrated their reliability and safety on Mars programs from Mariner to Viking to the most recent Phoenix Lander. JPL chose ATK again for this critical mission based on our perfect track record of more than 5,550 total tank deliveries with zero failures. As the journey to Mars is now on its way, we will continue to lend our expertise on ensuring a successful landing."
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.
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