The aeroshell measures an impressive 14.8 feet (4.5 meters) in diameter. (By way of comparison, the heat shields of the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Exploration Rovers measured 8.7 feet, and Apollo capsule heat shields measured less than 13 feet.) The Curiosity’s heat shield was designed with a different thermal protection system than used on previous Mars missions because of its large size, the weight of the overall spacecraft, and the unique entry trajectory through the Martian atmosphere.
Lockheed Martin has designed and built every aeroshell flown by NASA to Mars dating back to the Viking landers, according to a spokesperson.
"This is the biggest, most challenging aeroshell we've ever built," explains Rich Hund, MSL aeroshell program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company. "Even though the basic design draws from the many previous entry systems we've built for NASA, this mission had many unique requirements, mostly centered around delivering the one-ton rover to a specific landing site in the Gale crater."
In addition to the aeroshell, Lockheed Martin's Information Systems & Global Solutions (IS&GS) provided information technology (IT) support services to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL's) scientists, researchers, and engineers at Kennedy Space Center. Lockheed Martin onsite service technicians and service desk employees worked around the clock during the launch window to provide highly responsive technology support under a JPL Desktop and Institutional Computing Environment (DICE) subcontract.