British Involvement in Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover

As the Mars 2020 spacecraft plunged towards Mars, the fabric which made up the parachute was made in Tiverton, in Devon. Peter Hill, woven fabric department director of Heathcoat Fabrics, said that they were “very, very proud of the achievement”, which represents 15 years’ work.

Richard Crane, technical director, said “It is an incredibly emotional moment, when you know that millions of people around the world are holding their breath, waiting for news of a successful touchdown, and that part of that success is down to the efforts of our fantastic team here in Tiverton.”

Where did the road from Devon to the Red Planet begin? Peter Hill explained: “It began with us showing our capabilities at a Parachute Industries Symposium in the US, around 15 years ago. Heathcoat Fabrics make the lightest, strongest and most resilient parachute fabrics, and we were keen to prove it.” Successive challenges in this field led, in time, to the Mars 2020 contract.

The challenge for Heathcoat’s engineers was to create fabrics that were not only strong enough, but could withstand extremes of temperature. As one of the engineers explained: “Our latest parachute fabrics are the strongest, lightest and most heat resistant parachute fabrics ever produced. Heat resistance is vital for parachutes destined for space as they need to be baked at high temperature to ensure that microorganisms from Earth do not contaminate other planets.” “For the Mars2020 mission JPL-NASA had very specific requirements so that the parachute would survive deployment at hypersonic speeds, which we achieved through processing on a dedicated range of equipment.”

The parachute was deployed a mere four minutes after the spacecraft entered the thin air of Mars, at 20,000 km/h; the parachute is only able to decelerate the craft to 320 km/h, a reduction in speed of 98.4%, with an appalling level of shock loading on the parachute. The parachute, and the “backshell” in which it was mounted, was jettisoned, and the “Skycrane” lowered the Perseverance rover on to the Martian surface.

Congratulations to the Heathcoat team on getting Perseverance down safely!