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Mars Science Laboratory

DENVER, October 16th, 2008 -- Lockheed Martin [NYSE: LMT] recently delivered the backshell for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. The backshell is half of the large and sophisticated two-part aeroshell that will encapsulate and protect the MSL rover during its deep space cruise to Mars, and from the intense heat and friction that will be generated as the system descends through the Martian atmosphere.

While it looks like an UFO from Area 51, this is
 just the bottom part of the Mars Science Laboratory Rover aeroshell, the largest aeroshell in the history of space exploration at 15 feet of diameter, bigger than the almost 13 feet of the Apollo capsule heatshield. However, this is just not a simple protective device. This aeroshell will actually float in the middle of Mars' atmosphere, using a crane to softly land the rover itself in a complete new approach to planetary touch downs.

In addition to protecting the rover, the backshell provides the structural support for the parachute and unique sky crane, a system that will lower the rover to a soft landing on the surface of Mars.  The MSL biconic-shaped backshell is made of an aluminum honeycomb structure sandwiched between graphite-epoxy face sheets. It is covered with a thermal protection system composed of the cork/silicone super light ablator (SLA) 561v that originated with the Viking landers.

According to Steve Jolly, from Lockheed Martin, "the biggest challenge for the MSL aeroshell is its gigantic size. It's almost double the size of our Mars Exploration Rovers' [Spirit and Opportunity] aeroshells. When you are building a structure that big, there are many considerations we had to take into account, including the fact that this is a lifting capsule that is steerable."

Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company, a major operating unit of Lockheed Martin Corporation, designs, develops, tests, manufactures and operates a full spectrum of advanced-technology systems for national security, civil and commercial customers. Chief products include human space flight systems; a full range of remote sensing, navigation, meteorological and communications satellites and instruments; space observatories and interplanetary spacecraft; laser radar; fleet ballistic missiles; and missile defense systems.

Headquartered in Bethesda, Md., Lockheed Martin is a global security company that employs about 140,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services. The corporation reported 2007 sales of $41.9 billion.

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