When NASA launches the Mars 2020 rover from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station next July, Londoner Wilson Boynton will have the thrill of knowing he played a small role in the historic mission.
This August, Boynton – the founder of Advanced Composites Training (ACT) – was invited to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) at the California Institute of Technology. His task? To train engineers in the practical ins and outs of the composite materials used in the construction of the Mars rover.
“These are high-level engineers who know how to design. But they lacked the applied technology skills to work with composite materials,” Boynton explains.
According to NASA, the Mars 2020 rover will be about the same size as a car – around 3 metres long, 2.7 metres wide, and 2.2 metres tall. It needs to be sturdy enough to survive the journey to the Red Planet and strong enough to carry seven instruments that will conduct science and exploration technology investigations. It must also carry the Mars Helicopter – the first aircraft to fly on another planet.
But at 1,050 kilograms, the rover will weigh less than a compact car. That’s where composite materials come in.
Boynton explains that composites are fiber-based materials (such as carbon fiber) used in the construction of things like airplanes, ships, cars, and wind turbine blades. They are incredibly light, and incredibly strong.
Boynton says ACT has been teaching people to work with composites since 1996. It is the only privately-owned Canadian composites training institute that meets both Transport Canada and American Federal Aviation Administration standards.
“The level of hands-on training we offer makes our company unique,” says Boynton. “It’s this practical expertise that NASA was looking for when they called.”
Boynton describes his five days at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory a “bucket-list moment.”
He provided a team of JPL engineers with intensive training in composite manufacturing and repairs. “When it comes to actually building the rover there are so many things that can go wrong,” he notes. “They realised they didn’t have a full grasp of the material and process technologies and wanted to eliminate any issues. I trained them in these processes.”
Boynton says he is looking forward to future partnership opportunities with NASA.