Northrop Grumman to produce strong rocket motors for first Mars Ascent Car – Spaceflight Now

This illustration exhibits an idea of how the NASA Mars Ascent Car, carrying tubes containing rock and soil samples, could possibly 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 price as a lot as $84.5 million earlier this month to produce rocket motors for a first-of-its-kind launch automobile to fireplace a capsule of rock samples off of Mars on a journey again to Earth.

The Mars Ascent Car will fly 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 Area 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 response to plan, your entire marketing campaign to convey house Mars specimens will price about $7 billion, and the supplies could possibly be again on Earth by 2031.

One of many untried mission components 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 help 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 strong rocket motor used as a kick stage on NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer mission. Credit score: NASA

“The Martian surroundings will likely be a big issue within the design, improvement, manufacturing, testing, and qualification of two completely different strong rocket motors with a number of deliveries of every,” NASA stated in an announcement. “By way of the MAPS contract, Northrop Grumman will present the propulsion methods for the MAV, in addition to different supporting tools 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 function with NASA, as we’ve for many years, by offering key propulsion and management subsystems in help of human spaceflight and robotic exploration missions.”

Based mostly on preliminary design constraints, the Mars Ascent Car will be no taller than 9.2 ft (2.8 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 % that of Earth, which means a rocket designed to launch a payload into orbit will 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 automobile requirements, but it surely’s simply sufficient to do the job, in response to NASA engineers. After initially taking a look at a single-stage hybrid propulsion rocket design, engineers at NASA’s Marshall Area Flight Heart in Huntsville, Alabama, decided a two-stage, solid-fueled rocket is the only option for the Mars Ascent Car.

Final yr, NASA officers stated the choice of the Perseverance rover’s touchdown website in Jezero Crater, which will even be the MAV’s launch website, allowed engineers to contemplate a solid-fueled rocket design. Positioned close to the Martian equator, Jezero is house to a dried-up lake and river, which scientists imagine could protect signatures of historic life.

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

“We made a variety to go along with one thing that we all know and perceive, that was not essentially going to have a giant 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. Beneath 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 navy missiles and satellite tv for pc launchers, that are typically saved for many years earlier than use. The MAV levels will launch pre-loaded with strong propellants.

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

In response to NASA, Northrop Grumman owns a proprietary strong propellant formulation that could possibly be used for the Mars Ascent Car.

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

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Comply with Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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