Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

Updated: September 25, 2023

Touchdown! Biddeford manufacturer helps NASA's asteroid sampler land safely

space capsule in desert with scrub around it Courtesy / NASA, Keegan Barber The sample return capsule from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is seen shortly after touching down Sunday at the Defense Department's Utah Test and Training Range. The sample was collected from the asteroid Bennu in October 2020 by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx spacecraft.

Employees at Biddeford composite manufacturer FMI had a special reason to cheer Sunday.

FMI played a key role in the successful return of a NASA space capsule, which landed in the Utah desert at 10:52 a.m. EDT Sunday bringing rocks and dust from the asteroid Bennu. 

The Maine company, a subsidiary of Spirit AeroSystems (NYSE: SPR), helped fabricate the capsule’s heatshield, which “is the most critical piece for achieving the primary goal of bringing material back to Earth, as it provides thermal protection,” Kate Whitney, a Spirit AeroSystems spokesperson, told Mainebiz.

The shield was engineered to protect the OSIRIS-REx capsule and its contents from heat of 4,000 degrees. That was the temperature scientists knew would result when the returning capsule hit the Earth's atmosphere at 27,000 mph. 

“The heatshield thermal protection system is developed specifically for this mission and was fabricated by FMI,” Whitney said.

OSIRIS-REx, the first U.S. space mission to collect samples of an asteroid, traveled billions of miles to Bennu and back. As planned, the craft released the sample capsule for a parachute-assisted landing at the Department of Defense Utah Test and Training Range.

OSIRIS stands for Origins Spectral Interpretation Resource Identification Security Regolith Explorer.

Bennu’s rocks and dust were collected from the asteroid’s surface in 2020, four years after the mission launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The samples are expected to offer a window into the formation of the sun and planets about 4.5 billion years ago.

FMI produces reinforced thermal protection composites for products that must endure high temperatures.

person welding
The heatshield thermal protection system developed for the OSIRIS-REx mission was fabricated by FMI.

The company has worked with NASA for decades and has been involved with some of that agency’s most prominent projects. They include the heat shield used on the Stardust mission, a robotic space probe that collected dust samples from the comet Wild 2, two Mars missions and an upcoming mission to Saturn's largest moon Titan

Development of FMI’s heatshields starts with high-performance woven carbon fiber, impregnated with resin to create a ceramic matrix composite that is particularly tough, withstanding erosion and other forces that might otherwise result in materials failure, Patrick Sullivan, FMI’s technical project manager, has told Mainebiz.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF