Northrop Grumman to supply solid rocket motors for first Mars Ascent Vehicle – Spaceflight Now

This illustration reveals an idea of how the NASA Mars Ascent Car, carrying tubes containing rock and soil samples, might be launched from the floor of Mars in a single step of the Mars pattern return mission. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Catlech

NASA awarded Northrop Grumman a contract value as a lot as $84.5 million earlier this month to provide rocket motors for a first-of-its-kind launch car to fireside a capsule of rock samples off of Mars on a journey again to Earth.

The Mars Ascent Car will to the Pink Planet on a robotic mission scheduled for launch in 2026. The mission’s goal is to gather rock specimens gathered by NASA’s Perseverance rover, which landed on Mars final month.

Components of the Mars Pattern Return mission are scheduled for launch on two rockets in 2026. One a part of the mission will launch on a U.S. rocket, and ship to the Martian floor a rover to fetch the samples gathered by Perseverance, together with a makeshift launch pad and the Mars Ascent Car.

The rover will load the rock specimens into capsule on high of the rocket. Then the Mars Ascent Car will fireplace the pattern canister into orbit across the Pink Planet, the place a European House Company spacecraft will rendezvous with the pattern service.

The European orbiter will snag the pattern and seat it for return to Earth. If all goes in accordance with plan, all the marketing campaign to convey house Mars specimens will value about $7 billion, and the supplies might be again on Earth by 2031.

One of many untried mission parts required for the Mars Pattern Return program is the rocket that may increase the rock specimens off of the Pink Planet.

Northrop Grumman gained the Mars Ascent Propulsion System, or MAPS, contract to “present propulsion assist and merchandise” for the Mars Pattern Return program,” NASA introduced March 4. NASA stated the cost-plus, fixed-fee contract has a possible mission providers worth of $60.2 million and a most potential worth of $84.5 million.

Technicians work with a Star 27 stable rocket motor used as a kick stage on NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission. Credit score: NASA

“The Martian setting will likely be a big within the design, improvement, manufacturing, testing, and qualification of two completely different stable rocket motors with a of deliveries of every,” NASA stated in an announcement. “By means of the MAPS contract, Northrop Grumman will present the propulsion for the MAV, in addition to different supporting gear and logistics providers.”

“We’re dedicated to assist construct the rockets that may orbit the samples Perseverance collects to allow them to be returned to Earth,” stated Rebecca Torzone, vice chairman of missile merchandise at Northrop Grumman. “We play a significant position with NASA, as we’ve got for many years, by offering key propulsion and management subsystems in assist of human spaceflight and robotic exploration missions.”

Primarily based on preliminary design constraints, the Mars Ascent Car could be no taller than 9.2 ft (2.eight meters) and no wider than 1.9 ft (57 centimeters). Its whole liftoff mass should not exceed 881 kilos (400 kilograms).

Martian gravity is simply 38 p.c that of Earth, that means a rocket designed to launch a payload into orbit could be a lot smaller on Mars. And the MAV solely has to ship some 30 to 35 kilos (14 to 16 kilograms) of payload into orbit round Mars.

The necessities stack as much as create a MAV idea that’s tiny by launch car requirements, but it surely’s simply sufficient to do the job, in accordance with NASA engineers. After initially a single-stage hybrid propulsion rocket design, engineers at NASA’s Marshall House Flight Middle in Huntsville, Alabama, decided a two-stage, solid-fueled rocket is your best option for the Mars Ascent Car.

Final 12 months, NASA officers stated the number of the Perseverance rover’s touchdown site in Jezero Crater, which can even be the MAV’s launch web site, allowed engineers to think about a solid-fueled rocket design. Situated close to the Martian equator, Jezero is house to a dried-up lake and river, which imagine could protect signatures of historic life.

Jezero’s local weather is hotter than different areas thought of for Perseverance’s touchdown, making it extra amenable for stable rocket motors, which devour pre-packed propellants. Jim Watzin, the previous head of NASA’s Mars exploration program, stated final 12 months that stable rocket motors are “very a lot a identified and established entity.”

“We made a range to go together with one thing that we all know and perceive, that was not essentially going to have an enormous problem with the brand new, revised temperature limits that we’re going to face,” Watzin stated.

The MAV will launch in mid-2026 with the U.S.-built Pattern Retrieval Lander and a European fetch rover. Below present mission plans, the rocket gained’t be fired till mid-2029 to start the return journey to Earth.

Northrop Grumman provides solid-fueled rocket motors for army missiles and satellite tv for pc launchers, that are generally saved for many years earlier than use. The MAV phases will launch pre-loaded with stable propellants.

Thiokol Propulsion, which is now a part of Northrop Grumman after a sequence of company acquisitions, developed a stable rocket motor for NASA’s Magellan spacecraft that efficiently fired after greater than 15 months in area to position the probe into orbit round Venus in 1990.

In keeping with NASA, Northrop Grumman owns a proprietary stable propellant formulation that might be used for the Mars Ascent Car.

Northrop Grumman stated in an announcement will present a variant of its Star-class stable rocket motors for the primary and second phases of the Mars Ascent Car, plus the primary stage’s thrust vector management steering system and rockets for spin stabilization of the second stage.

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Observe Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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