The chassis was made with a high-performance prepreg and a cyanate ester resin. To improve the speed of manufacture and the quality of the completed product, Scheurer recommended that RUAG use software to transform its 3D model into a 2D pattern, and that laser projection be used for the lamination process. “Our goal was to introduce well-known, production-related engineering from motorsport to a space application,” he explains.
Using laser projection, manufacturers can verify the position of the tool and then project the outline of each ply for lay-up. “In the normal, old-fashioned way (lay-up), you have to measure and position every single ply by hand into the right position,” says Scheurer. “In the reinforced areas of the chassis, that could mean positioning up to 50 plies. Without laser projection, the lamination process would be very time consuming.” The use of six laser projectors around the tooling also eliminated issues related to the short 20-day lifespan of the high-performance prepreg.
Scheurer Swiss started work on the project in the summer of 2016 and completed its role by the end of 2018. During this time, RUAG built three different models of the rover. The final version of the Rosalind Franklin was built in a special clean factory at Airbus Defense and Space in England. The clean room construction helped ensure that organic materials are not accidentally carried to Mars, which would contaminate the experiment. The rover then went to Airbus Toulouse in France, where it was tested in a simulated Martian environment.
The Proton rocket that will carry the Rosalind Franklin and its Russian-built descent module is scheduled to launch next summer, and the Rosalind Franklin should be on Mars sometime in early spring 2021. Scheurer is confident that the composite materials will perform as expected throughout the mission and beyond. “Composite materials are engineered to survive the harsh environment,” he says. “Once composite materials have been cured, they have no expiration date.”