The safe landing of the InSight spacecraft on Mars Monday was good news to a Biddeford company that is making parts for the next scientific mission to the red planet in 2020.
Fiber Materials Inc., or FMI, has developed heat shield tiles for the Mars 2020 mission, which will carry an SUV-sized rover to explore the planet, said Dan Godbout, director of sales and marketing at FMI. The company has two locations in Biddeford and makes high-end composite materials.
“It’s good that we keep gaining experience with landing on Mars,” he said of today’s landing.
A big worry among scientists watching spacecraft approaching a planet’s atmosphere is the heat shield, which sustains extremely high temperatures outside while keeping the cargo cool inside.
FMI already has experience building heat shields. The tiles used to make the heat shield for Curiosity, the smaller car-sized rover that landed successfully on Mars on Aug. 6, 2012, were made by the company.
FMI is collaborating with NASA and Lockheed Martin, which built InSight and is building the spacecraft for Mars 2020.
“We’re building a very large heat shield that is about 25 feet in diameter,” Godbout said. “We are making the tiles and Lockheed Martin will assemble them into a shield.
“But all the tiles are being machined and 100 percent made in Maine,” he said.
FMI has been shipping tiles to Lockheed Martin for almost two years and expects to finish the remainder in 2019. Godbout would not comment on the value of the contract.
The tiles and heat shield can withstand temperatures topping 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit while keeping the cargo inside around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The shield is only about three inches thick and can withstand those huge temperature gaps, he said.
“We’re expecting to get more information and research from the Mars 2020 [than the earlier rover],” he said. The Mars 2020 mission will, among other things, look for answers to whether there is a potential for life on the planet.
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