Aerojet, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, announced today that its hydrazine thrusters powered a critical in-flight maneuver for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission. This important maneuver aligned the spacecraft's trajectory with its landing target.
On Jan. 11, 2012, eight small monopropellant hydrazine thrusters fired for nearly three hours in order to position the spacecraft more precisely toward its planned landing spot in Mars' Gale Crater. The trajectory, resulting from the mission's Nov. 26, 2011 launch, intentionally avoids Mars to prevent the upper stage of the launch vehicle from hitting the red planet as it is not cleaned to protect Mars from exposure to Earth's microbes.
"We are now more than 73 million miles into a 352-million-mile journey," said Aerojet Vice President of Space and Launch Systems, Julie Van Kleeck. "We've also just completed the first of up to six flight path correction maneuvers with our cruise thrusters, and our lander thrusters will have an integral role to play in the landing."
For decades, Aerojet's MR-111C 1.0 lbf thrusters have played a significant role in scientific missions destined for Mars. Nearly identical thrusters were used to guide the Sojourner Mars Pathfinder Rover, and the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers to airbag landings on the Martian surface. MSL will provide an actively guided descent as its Curiosity rover is lowered from a Sky Crane that relies on Aerojet thrusters to power its final descent and fly-away.
Aerojet's heritage in Mars exploration dates back to the 1970s when the company provided the original version of the throttleable MR-80 thruster for both successful Viking landings. Since then, Aerojet's high-reliability thrusters have been trusted on every U.S. Mars mission, including the only other successful propulsive landing on Mars – the Mars Phoenix Lander in 2008.
MSL is expected to arrive on Mars in August 2012 with its Curiosity rover housing the most advanced scientific instruments ever sent to the Martian surface. The mission will collect data to help assess if Mars was, or still is, habitable for microbial life.
Date: Jan 12, 2012