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Testing could lead to Mars landing

Andy Ouriel • Jan 29, 2015 at 5:21 PM

A juggernaut space company recently completed testing at a locally based world-class facility — a possible precursor to landing equipment and even astronauts onto Mars and beyond.

ATK recently wrapped up sophisticated experiments on its solar arrays performed at the NASA Plum Brook Station. With operations in 22 states, ATK specializes in aerospace, defense and commercial products.

Solar arrays can convert sunlight into electricity or energy needed to power astronauts or equipment into deep space.

For about two months at Plum Brook, ATK executives perfected what’s called MegaFlex, an innovative solar array design for providing critical space performance metrics.

This testing can help achieve a wide range of challenging space exploration missions.

The MegaFlex system will ideally support the Mars InSight mission, which aims to place a lander on Mars in hopes of studying the red planet’s deep interior sometime in 2016.    

InSight will use sophisticated geophysical instruments to delve deep beneath the surface of Mars, measuring the planet’s vital signs: its pulse or seismology; its temperature or heat flow probe; and reflexes or precision tracking.

NASA officials said ATK spent about $500,000 to test its solar arrays at Plum Brook’s Space Power Facility, housing the world’s largest vacuum chamber. The Space Power Facility can simulate space-like conditions, such as configuring temperatures ranging from minus 300 degrees to 300 degrees.

Community members voiced excitement about how the two global companies collaborated with one another on such a vital project.

“ATK came to Plum Brook as a result of the continuous and successful selling of Plum Brook’s facility by (station director) Gen. David Stringer and other staff members,” said Kurt Landefeld, a member of the Friends of NASA Plum Brook, which is a local volunteer group marketing and supporting the station.

“The benefit to ATK is the company is able to use the Space Power Facility for the full-scale testing that is unavailable any place else in the world” Landefeld said.

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