FRP Composites Strengthen Landing Parachutes on Mars Rover

by Tencom Ltd.

Mars Rover

Known for their strength and durability, Fiber Reinforced Polymer (FRP) composite materials are used throughout various industries to create long lasting, eco-friendly products.

One of those industries is aerospace. Weight is a key factor in creating space-worthy transportation and equipment. This is the case for both manned and unmanned missions.

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The high profile Mars Perseverance Rover is making headlines for more than its missions. It is being fitted with new landing parachutes that have been reinforced with FRP composites.

Reducing the Payload

The latest Mars Rover mission is to collect rock and soil samples from the Red Planet and to bring those samples back to Earth for testing. Due to the nature of the payload, this will be the heaviest mission for the Mars Rover.

To accommodate the weight of the required samples, NASA engineers had to cut down the overall weight of the spacecraft without compromising the transport in any way.

To accomplish this, one of the revisions that had to be made was to the spacecraft’s landing parachutes. Not only did the parachutes need to be able to operate in extreme Mars temperatures and weather, but they also needed to be able to support an inflation load of up to 70,000 lbs.

This led the engineers to conclude that para-aramid composites would be the best route to take.

If you have heard of bulletproof vests, then you have heard of aramid. It’s incredibly strong, lightweight, and resistant to impact. With Mars’ atmospheric electricity, severe dust storms, and temperatures as low as -81.4°F (-63°C), para-aramid composites were the logical choice for this mission.

Non-conductive and resistant to both corrosion and extreme temperature fluctuations, this super-strong material was used to create new composite suspension cords for the parachutes. It was also used in the parachutes' risers.

With the new para-aramid composites pieces in place, the revamped parachutes were put through a grueling test phase. NASA’s Ames Research Center put the product through rigorous wind tunnel testing.

After that, NASA’s Wallops Flight Research Facility simulated the conditions on Mars via Black Brant IX sounding rockets to ensure that the new parachutes would hold up.

Lastly, the para-aramid parachute was exposed to a 67,000 lb payload in a final flight test. This successful testing phase resulted in the highest payload ever taken on by a supersonic parachute.

How Strong Are FRP Composites?

While the answer to this question varies depending on the type of FRP composite, the short answer is very strong. Aramid composites can stop a bullet. However, this type of strength is not necessary for the vast majority of FRP composite applications. Fiberglass tends to do the job in many cases.

At Tencom, we specialize in fiberglass applications. We typically use E-glass and polyester resin to create outstanding pultruded products for various markets. The tensile strength of our pultruded rods and other profiles is measured in the range of 414-827 MPa (60,000-120,000 psi).

Compare that to the tensile strength of steel at 350 MPa (50,800 psi) or aluminum at 276 MPa (40,000 psi). Even commercially pure titanium has an ultimate tensile strength of only 434 MPa (63,000 psi). That puts our fiberglass pultruded profiles ahead of the pack by double or more.

How Resistant Are FRP Composites?

Our pultruded products are incredibly strong, flexible and thermal resistant up to 212°F (100°C). Non-conductive and completely resistant to corrosion, you won’t have to worry about being zapped or having to pay for maintenance due to water damage.

Although our profiles are naturally resistant to a wide range of otherwise damaging factors, our experts offer specialty resins to ramp these resistances even more. A good example of this can be seen in the thermal resistance of the material.

If you plan to use the pultruded profiles in an application that has a high risk of being subjected to extreme heat or even fire, then we recommend our specialty resins.

Currently, we offer epoxy, high-temperature vinyl ester, flame-retardant polyester, fire-retardant vinyl ester, and polyurethane resins. These are added during the pultrusion process to enhance the natural characteristics of the profiles. Let’s take a closer look at each specialty resin to see what they bring to the table.

High-temperature vinyl ester resin is impregnated into the fiberglass rovings. After the profile has been shaped and cured, the enhanced pultruded product can be used in applications up to 392°F (200°C).

Fire-retardant polyester resin is used to add low spread and low smoke capabilities to the pultruded profile. Spreading is often used to describe thermal resistance or heat transfer. Using this particular specialty resin will enhance the profile’s overall resistance to fire damage.

Fire-retardant vinyl ester resin is the most fire-proof of all. It gives a higher resistance to corrosion and enhances the pultruded profile’s overall tensile strength.

Finally, the super high-strength epoxy and polyurethane resins were created to optimize the product’s mechanical properties and resistance to fatigue. The difference is in the cost.

While the epoxy resin costs more for the material, it has a lower tooling cost. On the other hand, the polyurethane resin is cheaper for the material but more expensive for the tooling.

Customized Pultruded Profiles

The best part about working with us is that we offer customization. From various lengths and diameters to different properties, our experts can create the pultruded products you need for your next project.

Due to the lightweight structure of our fiberglass rods, tubes, and other products, our profiles are cost-effective to ship. T

hey are also very easy to install. To make the installation process go even faster, we can pre-cut pieces to fit perfectly or even pre-drill holes or slots for quick assembly.

You may also request custom colors for your products. We offer white, black, and any other shade on the color wheel. Pigments are added during the pultrusion process so that you will never have to worry about touching up a paint job.

To learn more about our products or request a quote, get in touch with us today.

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About Tencom

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Stated simply, Tencom has only one reason for being, which is "TO SERVE CUSTOMER NEEDS".

Our goal is the right product at the right time at the right price.

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