Airbus Defence and Space

EXOMARS: Heat shields for Schiaparelli: a source of pride and an outstanding success for our Group

Aurélien Pisseloup, Head of advanced projects and orbital services in the ‘Orbital Systems and Exploration’ business division and Yann Mignot, Head of the Protection Materials and Advanced Processes Department, both work on the Airbus Defence and Space site at St-Médard-en-Jalles (33), a specialism of which is atmospheric re-entry and heat protection systems.

Interview with Aurélien Pisseloup and Yann Mignot


Aurélien Pisseloup: the Exomars missions

EXOMARS comprises two missions, one in 2016, the other in 2018. In 2016, the Schiaparelli capsule will re-enter the Martian atmosphere carrying a lander and electronic equipment. It will be launched atop the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) satellite on 7 January 2016, on a Russian Proton launcher. The TGO will remain in orbit for two years to act as a telecommunications relay for the second mission. This latter will be run by the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, and will entail sending a probe to deliver the European Mars rover developed by Airbus Defence and Space.


Last July, we delivered the heat shields to Thales Alenia Space, prime contractor for the programme on behalf of the European Space Agency (ESA). These shields are designed to protect the Schiaparelli capsule during its re-entry into the Martian atmosphere. Needless to say, these are key elements of the mission. We were responsible for the heat shield – structure, thermal protection and instrumentation – as well as the thermal protection and some of the atmospheric re-entry instruments for the rear shield, with the structure having been designed and built by Thales Alenia Space France.

Yann Mignot: post-delivery support until final assembly

After delivery we intervene as and when needed until launch, during  the flight model assembly, integratation and testing. For example, last October, we spent two weeks on the Thales Alenia Space site to integrate the SLI insulation designed to protect the outside of the probe during the 9 month cruise through space. We will then be called on after the test campaign, when the probe and satellite are disassembled and sent to Russia in mid-2015. Therafter, we will be involved during the final assembly campaign in Russia in late 2015. This will entail assembling the final heat shield elements, for example once the fuel tank doors have been closed.

The thermal protection tiles are made of a material which absorbs some of the energy it receives by losing thickness, when subjected to the extremely high heat caused by kinetic heating during the re-entry through the Martian atmosphere. This highly insulating material is affixed to large surface areas using a silicon glue. When the project started, there were no plans for Airbus Defence and Space to handle this activity but as the project progressed, it became clear to the customer that assembly of the heat shields could not be left to chance and that our know-how was the valuable legacy of a long line of previous projects.

Aurélien Pisseloup: one successful challenge …

All the teams involved successfully met the challenge, which was to deliver a product compliant with the time, quality and cost requirements of our customer in a complex industrial context: 4 partners – Thales Alenia Space France, Thales Alenia Space Italia, Airbus Defence and Space France and Airbus Defence and Space Spain – with of course the international context of the Europe-wide programs of ESA

… demands another!

The mission is not over, but we are already eagerly looking ahead to the next step: a Martian sample return mission. In technical terms, we are ready. We are capable of ensuring entry into the Martian atmosphere and the return voyage with re-entry to Earth. ExoMars is not yet a success, but we must take advantage of this wonderful experience immediately, to avoid having to relearn in the future what we already know how to do today.

ExoMarsAtmosphereAccess to spaceAirbus Defence and Space