The world’s largest heatshield, to be used by the Curiosity Mars rover, has been built and tested by Lockheed Martin for Nasa’s Mars science laboratory (MSL), it was announced at the Paris Air show.

The 15ft heatshield meant for Curiosity is larger than those created for Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers at 8.5ft and Apollo capsule at less than 13ft.

The heatshield is the second half of the two-part aeroshell that will encapsulate and protect the Mars rover from intense heat and friction during its descent through the Martian atmosphere.

The heatshield uses a tiled phenolic impregnated carbon ablator (PICA) thermal protection system to withstand temperatures up to 3,800°F caused by the rover’s entry trajectory profile.

The aeroshell has a steering capability produced by ejecting ballast that offsets the centre-of-mass before entering the atmosphere.

The offset creates lift on interacting with the thin Martian atmosphere and enables roll control and autonomous steering using thrusters.

A MSL entry descent and landing instrumentation suite will be installed on the heatshield before it is finally shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in early 2011.

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Curiosity will determine if the planet was habitable in the past by characterising the climate and geology of Mars and prepare for human exploration to support the Mars exploration programme.

Nasa’s jet propulsion laboratory-built Mars rover is scheduled for launch in 2011.