Published : Friday, February 23, 2018 | 6:48 PM
NASA’s Mars 2020 rover mission will most likely carry a payload of materials used for making space suits for astronauts, as a first step in determining what kind of suits the first Earthmen on Mars should have on when they land on the planet.
Last year, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena invited the Advanced Space Suit team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) to place space suit materials on the calibration target of Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman and Luminescence for Organics and Chemicals (SHERLOC) instrument on the Mars 2020 rover.
Subsequently, JSC conducted ground testing on both current and new space suit materials, exposing them to 2,500 hours of Mars-mission-equivalent ultraviolet to select materials for the rover and understand the effects from Mars-equivalent UV exposure.
To complete this testing, JSC partnered with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center to utilize their UV vacuum chambers, and tested the following materials: Orthofabric, polycarbonate, Teflon, Dacron, Vectran, spectra, bladder, nGimat-coated Teflon, and nGimat-coated Orthofabric.
All samples were measured for mass, tensile strength, elongation, and chemical composition before and after UV radiation. The material properties were taken at a lab at JSC, while the chemical composition measurements were taken at JPL with an equivalent SHERLOC instrumentation.
Mass loss was insignificant – less that 0.5 percent – among the materials, a study by JSC’s Dr. Mark Fries and Kristine Larson last year said. The study showed most materials lost tensile strength after UV radiation and became more brittle with a loss of elongation. Changes in chemical composition were also seen in all radiated materials through Spectral Analysis, the study said.
Results from the testing helped select six materials that will fly on the Mars 2020 rover: Orthofabric, Teflon, nGimat-coated Teflon, Dacron, Vectran, and Polycarbonate.
The results were presented at the 47th International Conference on Environmental Systems (ICES-2017-61) at Charleston, South Carolina.
The JSC can now use the results to create a correlation to the chemical changes after UV radiation – which is what the rover will send back while on Mars – to the mechanical changes, such as tensile strength.
If they prove to be tough enough to survive on the Martian surface, these materials could be used in the manufacture of space suits, gloves and helmets for future astronauts.
Fries, who is also a SHERLOC co-investigator and curator of extraterrestrial materials at JSC, said the SHERLOC instrument is “a valuable opportunity to prepare for human spaceflight as well as to perform fundamental scientific investigations of the Martian surface.”
“It gives us a convenient way to test material that will keep future astronauts safe when they get to Mars,” Fries said in a Universe Today report last week.
Mars 2020 is expected to launch in the middle of that year. On Mars, the mission will look for signs of past life, cache rock samples and prepare the way for human exploration.