Journey to Another World

Although Mercury and Venus are closer to Earth, Mars is the planet that attracts the most attention from scientists and explorers. According to Digital Trends magazine, there have been 56 different missions to Mars to date, although only 25 of them have been successful. There are seven future missions to Mars scheduled through 2024, and spacecraft components made from composite materials will likely be on board for all the flights and on-planet explorations.

One of those upcoming missions is ExoMars, a joint program of the European Space Agency (ESA) and Russia’s space agency, Roscomos. Thales Alenia Space is the prime contractor for the project, which is designed to investigate the Martian environment. The project’s first phase took place in 2016, when the team put a trace gas orbiter in orbit around Mars and tested an entry, descent and landing demonstrator module (EDM). In the second phase, which will begin in 2020, the agencies will land a robotic rover on the red planet.

The robotic explorer, named the Rosalind Franklin to honor a famous British biochemist, will collect and analyze samples gathered from beneath the Martian surface, drilling down as far as 6.5 feet. The agencies hope to find evidence of methane and other trace atmospheric gases that could indicate that life once existed on the planet.

To accomplish its mission, the Rosalind Franklin will have to function in Mar’s extremely cold environment – the average temperature there is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Although the vehicle will run on six wheels that will automatically adjust its height and angle as it moves, the chassis will need to be tough enough to withstand possible contact with Mars’ rocky surface. CFRP materials will provide both the light weight and the durability required for the Rosalind Franklin’s chassis.

Airbus Defense and Space is developing the Rosalind Franklin, with RUAG Space supplying many of the parts. RUAG tapped the engineering company Scheurer Swiss to assist in the development of the rover’s CFRP chassis.

Scheurer Swiss had previously worked with RUAG Space on the Sentinel and other ESA satellites. “RUAG Space had already had several good experiences with us and knew about our engineering competence,” says Dominik Scheurer, CEO of Scheurer Swiss. “In the course of the project, our services expanded from engineering to consulting on a laser system for the laminating process, 3D ply flattening and production support on site.”

Airbus and RUAG Space decided to use CFRP for the chassis at a very early stage. “No other materials could provide the requested properties regarding strength and temperature resistance,” Scheurer adds.