The Manufacturer Podcast | Mission to Mars: a manufacturing odyssey from Tiverton to the Red Planet

Posted on 21 Apr 2021 by Daniel Kirmatzis

In the latest edition of The Manufacturer Podcast we focus on NASA’s recent mission to Mars. Daniel Kirmatzis is joined by Peter Hill, Director Woven Fabrics at Heathcoat Fabrics, to discuss the company’s critical role in the recent NASA Perseverance Rover landing on Thursday 18 February 2021.

Listen below as Peter recounts, among other things, those ‘7 minutes of terror’ as Perseverance descended through the thin Martian atmosphere at 16x the speed of sound, and the relief when the signal came back that it had landed safely, knowing that Heathcoat Fabrics had played a significant role in humanity’s search for life beyond Earth.

Heathcoat Fabrics was on a 5-year mission to manufacturer a fabric that would deliver the most sophisticated testing equipment NASA has yet sent to Mars, but as Peter explains the company could draw upon their prior experience with the European Space Agency.

It’s a 200 year-old story in the making that began with John Heathcoat in the early nineteenth century and continues to this day, from Tiverton in Devon to the Red Planet.

Read an extract from the interview. The full interview will feature in the May/June edition of The Manufacturer so make sure you get your copy here

In those seven minutes of so-called terror, as the Perseverance Rover descended through the Martian atmosphere before signalling that it had landed, what were you doing that evening? And what were your emotions at the time?

That evening I was working with some colleagues at Airborne Systems in North America on the next generation of products and other things that we are making with them. They were all keen to get on with it because it is their time zone, which was good because it distracted me from thinking about it too much. We were obviously talking about it, but we were calm as we had done the testing; the fabric was tested to the nth degree, NASA had done all its tests and we all supremely confident. In the last 10 minutes, we went in to watch on TV. Before the 7-minute countdown started, people on the TV were talking about all the things that could go wrong! Then the minutes started ticking away and I started getting closer to the TV and ended up on my knees in front of it, hardly able to breathe I was so excited. I did not expect this at all, I thought I was going to be dead calm. It was such a relief when the parachute opened and then you think, that’s 90% of the job done from our point of view – the parachute has opened. But, of course, then you are thinking that the sky train has got to work. It all went to plan and when you see the pictures so quickly afterwards the relief was amazing.

Rapid inflation testing at NASA Ames Facility - Credit NASAJPL-Caltech

Rapid inflation testing at NASA Ames Facility – Credit NASA/JPL-Caltech

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