Toray Advanced Composites is helping NASA uncover signs of life on the Red Planet once again by providing composite materials for the critical components of the Mars 2020 mission. These materials ensure safe delivery of the capsule through the Mars atmosphere and the subsequent vehicle exploration. Composite materials from Toray were used for the structural support for the Mars entry heat shield, the landing deck of the Mars Perseverance Rover, and the rotor blades and chassis structure of the first-ever Mars Ingenuity Helicopter. Our materials were chosen due to their rich space heritage on previous NASA missions to Mars vehicles, such as the Curiosity and Spirit Rovers.
Composite materials destined for space must meet rigorous requirements to ensure missions are successful. They must tolerate high temperatures, be extremely lightweight, have low moisture absorption, high stiffness, and low CTE and off-gassing characteristics. For these reasons, Lockheed Martin chose Toray high-modulus cyanate ester prepreg for the structure to support the heat shield needed for the atmosphere entry to Mars. “High service temperature composite materials provided by Toray Advanced Composites enable fabrication of extremely lightweight and dimensionally stable entry vehicle structures for planetary exploration,” states David Scholz, Mars 2020 Aeroshell Principal Engineer for Lockheed Martin Space. Similar Toray materials were used by JPL for the structural portions of the landing deck on Perseverance and by AeroVironment for the entire Ingenuity helicopter structure and highly specialized rotor blades.
“We feel our heritage in the space industry, as well as our ability to be collaborative on specialized projects such as the Mars 2020 mission, enforces our position as the ‘go-to’ composites partner for space applications,” says Steven Mead, Managing Director of Toray Advanced Composites. “Working with innovative companies such as JPL, AeroV, and Lockheed Martin to make space exploration continue is a privilege.” Previous rovers, Curiosity and Spirit, utilized unidirectional tape prepregs for the mast and submast components. An extra version of this rover was funded and used by Disneyland in the historic “Tomorrowland.” It now resides at the National Mall Space Museum.
The 2020 Mars mission successfully launched on July 30 and is scheduled to land on the Red Planet in February 2021. The Ingenuity helicopter will be deployed two months after Perseverance lands and will operate for 30 days for the purpose of learning to see if a flying machine can operate on Mars. Perseverance will spend two years investigating geography and looking for past signs of life.