On Tuesday, June 24, Alliant Techsystems (ATK) announced that it received a contract from Lockheed Martin Space Systems to provide UltraFlex solar arrays for NASA’s 2016 InSight Mars Lander mission. The UltraFlex system, according to David Shanahan, vice president and general manager of ATK’s Space Components division, has a “unique round fan-fold design that enables much higher performance than typical spacecraft solar arrays.” This kind of array is essential for deep space exploration, an area NASA intends to delve more into over the next decade.
Shanahan added why such a design is a necessity due to the demand for spaceflight components with lower mass—on future missions, space (not just the kind beyond Earth’s atmosphere) is of the utmost importance. “With spacecraft facing increasingly ambitious low-mass and constrained packaging requirements, ATK’s arrays deliver all the power our customers need with this enabling technology,” he related.
UltraFlex’s design passed a critical design review in February of this year. The company is currently constructing the arrays; they will be tested later this year and are scheduled for a 2015 delivery for installation. ATK stated that their design is based on the arrays that powered the Mars Phoenix Lander during its five-month 2008 mission.
The company is also currently designing UltraFlex arrays for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Commercial Resupply Spacecraft (CRS), otherwise known as the Cygnus spacecraft. This spacecraft conducts cargo missions to the International Space Station (ISS).
While UltraFlex arrays have been used by NASA for years, ATK is currently developing its next “giant leap” in solar array technology. This week’s announcement comes nearly two years after ATK was awarded a $6.4 million Phase 1 Space Technology contract from NASA’s Space Technology program in order to develop a larger version of the arrays, according to a May AmericaSpace article written by Mike Killian. In May, the company announced they had successfully tested the MegaFlex solar array wing, intended to power future Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) systems for robotic—and, eventually, human—spaceflight.
It is hoped these solar arrays will aid deep space missions including NASA’s proposed Asteroid Redirect Mission and, hopefully, future jaunts to Mars. In the previous AmericaSpace article cited, Killian wrote, “A flight demonstration version of the MegaFlex solar array technology is expected to be produced under a future Phase 2 contract to prove the technology works as expected in an actual spaceflight, and it is likely that NASA’s Orion spacecraft will utilize MegaFlex for the agency’s Asteroid Redirect Mission and other deep-space missions starting next decade when the SLS can support such flights beyond low-Earth orbit.” In an AmericaSpace article published Monday, it was revealed that NASA had selected 18 study proposals concerning a future Asteroid Redirect Mission, bringing that idea closer to reality.
InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is a lander which will use its instruments to explore the Red Planet’s seismic activity, geophysics aspects, and heat flow. By studying these aspects of Mars, scientists and researchers intend to learn more about the planet’s tectonic processes. It is intended to launch in March 2016. Powered by ATK’s UltraFlex solar arrays, it is hoped the lander will help us Earthlings gain “insight” into terrestrial planetary formation.