TenCate prepregs on Mars
There is now an unmanned rover named Curiosity driving around on Mars and providing photos and scientific information. On entering the rarefied atmosphere of the planet, the aeroshell in which this rover was stored during the journey had to withstand erosion and temperatures of up to 2100 °C. The structure of the aeroshell consists in part of thermoset composite materials (prepregs) from TenCate Advanced Composites. This is the fourth reconnaissance flight to Mars in which TenCate has been one member of an important team.
The heat shield has a diameter of 4.6 metres. Picture: NASA
The fact that Curiosity suffered no damage in the landing and is now able to carry out its work is in part thanks to the aeroshell from Lockheed Martin. An aeroshell protects a spacecraft against pressure, heat and erosion when entering the atmosphere. In the case of Curiosity this involved a speed of more than 200,000 km/hour and a temperature of 2100 °C. The structure of the aeroshell, which consists of a back shell and heat shield, incorporated thermoset composite materials from TenCate: well over 204 m2 of unidirectional prepregs from TenCate Advanced Composites USA in Morgan Hill (California). These materials were incorporated into the side panels (part of the honeycomb structure) on the back shell and the heat shield at Lockheed Martin (Denver). The heat shield has a diameter of 4.6 metres, making it the largest shield ever built for a spacecraft. The craft itself measures 2.9 metres in length, is 2.7 metres wide and 2.2 metres high. It weighs 900 kilos.
Curiosity descending. Picture: NASA
TenCate Advanced Composites USA has been involved for quite some time in the development of materials for military aviation and the aerospace industry. TenCate is a key supplier to Lockheed Martin and has been selected to work on several technical projects for them ranging from satellites, heat shields to military aircraft and advanced composite technologies. At Lockheed Martin in Denver, TenCate was selected to develop high temperature composites that were ultimately used on the heat shield for the Orion spacecraft This collaboration with Lockheed Martin has resulted in materials that satisfy the stringent demands in the aerospace industry.
Curiosity on Mars. Picture: NASA
In past years TenCate Advanced Composites has supplied thermoset composite for reconnaissance missions to Mars for the Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix rovers. TenCate materials continue to play a small yet important part of every space flight.