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ILC Dover Airbags Cushion MER Spirit Landing on Mars

Can the entire Mars program bounce off the initial success of Spirit

Frederica - Jan 07, 2004
On January 4, 2004, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover (MER) named Spirit, ended its 300-million-mile journey from Earth with a successful landing on the surface of Mars. ILC Dover, Inc. of Frederica, Delaware was NASA's prime contractor for the airbag subsystem that helped make the landing a success. The concept of a cushioned landing on Mars using ILC airbags was first successfully demonstrated on the NASA Pathfinder mission in 1997.

These landings demonstrate the airbag technology's ability to accommodate the harsh landing conditions on rough Martian terrain. This technology is also a benefit to the scientific mission objectives, allowing more mass for the science instruments by minimizing the mass used for the critical, but one-time use, landing system.

ILC Dover's successful involvement in this mission is another example of its products being used in diverse space environments from Earth orbit extravehicular activities, to walking on the Lunar surface, and again, landing on Mars. ILC Dover is best known for producing all of the Extravehicular Activity (EVA) space suits since the start of Project Apollo.

ILC worked with the NASA MER Team from mid-2000 through the delivery and integration of the flight airbags in the spring of 2003. The program started as a rebuild of the Pathfinder airbag design used in the successful 1997 Mars landing; however, as the payload mass increased the airbag performance had to be improved. Changes were made to the Pathfinder design, and new material configurations were used, which allowed a 52% increase in the lander mass with only a 27% increase in the airbag system mass.

ILC Dover conducted airbag testing at NASA Plumbrook Station facilities for inflation tests, drop test verification, and retraction of the airbags. The large vacuum test chamber was configured to simulate the Martian environment with its thin atmosphere and its rocky surface.

The same technology used to safely land the Spirit rover on Mars has a variety of other aerospace applications. ILC is developing low volume, lightweight aerocapture devices that can decelerate objects in orbit. Uses of this technology range from a support role in the EDL (entry, descent, landing) phase of a mission to controlled de-orbiting of spacecrafts at the end of their useful life.

ILC also is developing new technology to allow government, NASA and commercial satellite producers to significantly lower their launch costs and satellite component costs. This new technology, known as in-situ rigidization, can replace expensive hardware with lower mass rigidizable composites.

The component is packed in a small volume for launch, is deployed on-orbit to a predetermined shape, then rigidized via one of several available methods to form a composite structure which maintains a precise geometry. For some applications, this rigidization technology becomes an enabler for missions where traditional mechanical components are too large or too heavy.

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Spirit Heading To 'Home Plate'
Pasadena CA (JPL) Jan 09, 2006
Last week Spirit completed robotic-arm work on "El Dorado." The rover used all three of its spectrometers plus the microscopic imager for readings over the New Year's weekend.

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