NASA has selected FMI, a subsidiary of Spirit AeroSystems, for a contract providing thermal protection systems (TPS) to support several emerging missions under the Science Mission Directorate: Mars Sample Return (MSR) Earth Entry Vehicle; MSR Sample Return Lander; and Dragonfly. Each of these projects require ablative TPS materials for ground testing and flight.
"The team is thrilled to be the supplier of these TPS materials to NASA and to support these exciting missions," stated Steve Violette, Spirit/FMI Senior Scientist, Application Engineering. "Not only will this result in the first samples ever returned from Mars, but it will also feature a game-changing technology that will enable more challenging missions for years to come."
Dragonfly is a planned mission in the New Frontiers Program scheduled to launch in 2027. Dragonfly will send a robotic rotorcraft to the surface of Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, to study chemistry and habitability. FMI manufactures a material called PICA for the Dragonfly spacecraft's heat shield that will enable it to enter Titan's atmosphere. PICA is a proven (TPS) material which has supported several NASA missions including Stardust, Mars Science Lab and the Curiosity Rover, OSIRIS REx, and Mars 2020, which is currently on the way to Mars and scheduled to land in February 2021.
Mars Sample Return (MSR) is a multi-spacecraft mission designed to return samples from Mars. The Mars 2020 spacecraft, protected by its PICA heatshield, will land the Perseverance rover on Mars surface. The Perseverance rover will accomplish several scientific missions, including the collection of samples for MSR. The MSR mission will require two vehicles to return with samples. Under the NASA contract, FMI will supply the TPS materials for both spacecraft which includes PICA and a new innovation called 3MDCP (formerly HEEET) that FMI helped NASA develop.
"Our team has spent a year and a half establishing the capabilities to support TPS production for NASA's exploration missions. As TPS Project Manager, I see the contract award is the culmination of all that hard work," says Taylor Franklin, Spirit/FMI Project Engineer. "It is acknowledgment of the trust NASA has placed in us to deliver the highest quality products required for these missions."