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Lockheed Martin To Launch Mars Science Lab in 2009

By | June 19, 2006

      NASA selected Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] to provide an Atlas V rocket to launch the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) in 2009.

      The Atlas V 541 will lift off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the half-year voyage.

      That Atlas V 541 is similar to the Atlas V 551 that launched the New Horizons mission to Pluto in January.

      The 541 configuration includes four strap-on solid rocket boosters, each of which adds an additional 300,000 pounds of thrust to the almost 1 million pounds provided by the core vehicle RD-180 engine.

      The Atlas V 541 vehicle will also utilize a 5-meter fairing to protect the MSL payload on the ascent.

      Once the boost phase is complete, the Centaur upper stage will perform two engine burns to place MSL into a Mars transfer trajectory.

      Scheduled for launch in the fall of 2009, MSL will land on the surface of Mars in spring 2010 and begin its two-year mission.

      Atlas V launched NASA’s most recent Mars mission, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), last August. It arrived at Mars in March and is executing a series of orbit-lowering maneuvers prior to beginning its primary science mission.

      MRO will help determine the landing site for MSL, and later it will serve as a communication relay for MSL once the lab is on the Martian surface.

      “After launching both of these spacecraft on Atlas, it will be very rewarding to see them working together on and around Mars,” said Vernon Thorp, Atlas program manager for NASA mission at Lockheed Martin.

      The space agency awarded the MSL launch to Lockheed Martin under the terms of the NASA Launch Services contract signed in 2000. This agreement was designed to be the primary way for NASA to procure launch services on the Atlas vehicle through 2010. Atlas V vehicles have now achieved 100 percent mission success in eight flights. Atlas II, III, and V configurations have achieved 79 consecutive one-at-a-time launch successes since 1993, according to Lockheed Martin.

      In March, Lockheed also was selected to design the aeroshell system for the MSL mission.

      Lockheed Martin will design and build the system, which includes the composite load carrying structure and the thermal protection systems. The blunt-nosed cone will encapsulate and protect the MSL rover from the intense head and friction generated as the system descends through the Martin atmosphere.

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