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Colorado aerospace companies contribute technology, expertise to NASA’s Mars 2020 mission

Judith Kohler, Denver Post
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 mission with the Perseverance rover is rolled to the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station , Florida, in preparation for Thursday’s launch. Photo credit: United Launch Alliance. Provided by United Launch Alliance

Colorado companies have a big stake in NASA’s Mars 2020 mission, set for launch early Thursday, in the ongoing quest to learn more about the planet and try out new technology. The mission includes a test flight of a small robotic helicopter in the first-ever attempt at controlled flight on another planet.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems designed and built the aeroshell, a two-part structure that will encapsulate the rover, named Perseverance, during its seven-month journey to Mars. A heat shield that’s part of the aeroshell is built to withstand the extreme temperatures — up to 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit — generated by the descent through the planet’s atmosphere.

Employees at Lockheed’s Jefferson County facility also helped design and then built the system that attaches the 4-pound helicopter to the belly of the rover and will release the craft when all’s clear for its first flight.

“This is a very cool thing,” Neil Tice, Lockheed’s manager for the mission, said about the helicopter. “It’s the first time that there’s been any kind of helicopter or plane that’s flown on another planet or another planetary body.”

Employees at Lockheed Martin Space Systems’ Denver-area facility work on the aeroshell, the covering and heat shield that will encapsulate the rover Perseverance, scheduled to launch Thursday in NASA’s Mars 2020 mission. Provided by Lockheed MartinIn Centennial, employees of United Launch Alliance charted the flight path of the spacecraft, which will be launched by ULA’s Altas V 541 rocket. Every U.S.-led mission to Mars has been launched by ULA rockets or its heritage vehicles, said Jesse Gonzales, a flight controls engineer.

Read more via The Denver Post.


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