Cracked Heat Shield Would Not Hinder Mars 2020 Mission

The spacecraft for Mars 2020 mission has developed a flaw, but that setback would not hinder the mission. NASA and Lockheed Martin tested the craft earlier this month, and the heat shield cracked during testing. 

The company subjected the shield to 20 percent more forces than expected in the atmosphere of Mars. These potent forces caused a crack near the edge of the shield; this crack extends through to the other end of the shield. 

A lab statement indicated that they detected the crack on April 12. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working with Lockheed Martin to check the cause of the break. However, they will no longer use the shield for Mars 2020. It will be repaired, but it would only be used to support other spacecraft trials. Lockheed Martin will build a new shield for the Mars Mission. 

The current heat shield is not new; the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) ordered the building of the shield for its mission. The MSL tested in 2008, and they preserved it as a spare for the mission. 

A lot of things about the Mars 2020 mission is similar to the MSL mission. The team is, therefore, using the approach they used in the MSL mission. They would use the same method from entry to landing. The team is also using some spare hardware from the MSL mission. This hardware has undergone some form of repair to make them durable enough to suit the atmosphere of Mars.

JPL has not revealed the estimated amount involved in building a new shield; they have also not mentioned the amount they would incur in repairing the heat shield. JPL also assured the public that the damaged heat shield would not impede the Mars mission in 2020. 

Mars 2020 mission is in phases. The first phase which will happen in 2020 will see scientists collecting soil and rock samples from Mars to Earth. NASA has not made any firm plans on how to study the samples. 

In a 2017 announcement, NASA only focused on the process to get the samples to earth. NASA and ESA signed a statement of intent on April 26. The SOI was to decide possible cooperation between the two on the architecture of the Mars sample return. The two signed the agreement at the Berlin international Mars sample return workshop. 

The study of the Mars sample return would need more than just NASA. According to Michael Meyer, NASA’s Mars Exploration Programme lead scientist revealed that the project is an international project and everyone’s input is needed.