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Alliant Techsystems designed and produced the composite structure for the High- Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera, part of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft launched recently aboard an Atlas V 400 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
As the largest- diameter telescopic camera ever sent to another planet, it will photograph hundreds of targeted areas in unprecedented detail, revealing secrets about the geology of Mars and candidate landing sites for future missions. The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment will photograph selected places on Mars with the most powerful telescopic camera ever built for use at a foreign planet. It will reveal features as small as a kitchen table in images covering swaths of Mars’ surface 6 kilometers (3.7 miles) wide.
ATK provided strong, lightweight, precision composite camera structures for the HiRISE instrument, comprising the baffle tube, secondary mirror support structure and optical bench, designed to ensure the necessary dimensional stability required in the harsh environment of space. ATK composite technologies were also used to manufacture the 12-foot diameter heat shield assembly that surrounds the Atlas V 400 RD-180 main engine. The heat shield has been used successfully on all five Atlas V missions.
The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter lifted off at 7:43 AM EDT on 12 August from Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The spacecraft will examine Martian features ranging from the top of the atmosphere to underground layering. Researchers will use it to study the history and distribution of Martian water. It will also support future Mars missions by characterizing landing sites and providing a high-data-rate communications relay. “”Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is the next step in our ambitious exploration of Mars,”” said Douglas McCuistion, director of the Mars Exploration Program in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “”We expect to use this spacecraft’s eyes in the sky in coming years as our primary tools to identify and evaluate the best places for future missions to land.””
“”We will keep pursuing a follow-the-water strategy with Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,”” said Dr. Michael Meyer, Mars exploration chief scientist at NASA Headquarters. “”Dramatic discoveries by Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and the Mars Exploration Rovers about recent gullies, near-surface permafrost and ancient surface water have given us a new Mars in the past few years. Learning more about what has happened to the water will focus searches for possible Martian life, past or present.”” Dr. Richard Zurek of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., project scientist for the orbiter, said, “”Higher resolution is a major driver for this mission. Every time we look with increased resolution, Mars has said, ‘Here’s something you didn’t expect. You don’t understand me yet.’ We’re sure to find surprises.””
The orbiter will reach Mars in March 2006.
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