Ared Schnorhk holding the demonstration model of FRED
(c) ESA 2003

 
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Getting to know FRED inside out
3 March 2003

Housing the dreams of Ferrari fans all over the world, FRED is no ordinary piece of spacecraft kit. FRED is the specially constructed glass globe containing the famous Ferrari red paint that is due to make its first trip to Mars later this year on board the ESA spacecraft, Mars Express.

However, there is much more to FRED than meets the eye. It was designed by the principal mechanical, propulsion and thermal engineer for the Mars Express project, Ared Schnorhk. "We were working to an extremely tight deadline," says Schnorhk, "so my first priority in the design of the container was to keep it simple. But at the same time it had to be robust enough to withstand the space environment, as well as being very low mass."

Before turning to the drawing board in May 2002, Schnorhk had to decide exactly where the container was going to be attached to Mars Express. "Of course, you can't just drill holes in a spacecraft wherever you like," says Schnorhk. "Fortunately, there were four existing holding points where it had been intended to attach an antenna, but it had been cancelled from the project."

With the shape of the base plate already decided thanks to these existing holding points, Schnorhk had just two months to design the container and have it manufactured. Time was tight as FRED would have to undergo rigorous testing procedures during July and August 2002 before it could be integrated on to the spacecraft. Schnorhk chose to embed a tiny glass sphere of 2-centimetre diameter, containing 3 millilitres of Ferrari red paint, into a block of transparent polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). PMMA is much stronger than glass and largely shatterproof, which is a good thing, as it will be subjected to massive vibrations during the launch. Experts specified that silicon should cover the surface of the PMMA block and the whole thing had to be under an aluminium cover. The silicon ensures that the block does not move around under its cover, and allows the cover to expand and contract with the changing temperatures without damaging the PMMA. The entire container, including base plate and cover and the four titanium screws that attach it to the spacecraft, weighs just 200 grams.

Weighing so little, FRED was in no danger of upsetting the delicate balance of the spacecraft. "Coincidentally, there is a small imbalance in the propellant tanks on Mars Express that puts its centre of gravity slightly off-centre," says Schnorhk. "In the position it occupies, FRED actually helps to redress that imbalance, albeit minutely."

With its simple, effective design, its robust specifications, and housing one of the most famous paints in the world, FRED's significance stretches far beyond its balancing properties. Later this year, FRED will cause millions of hearts to miss a beat as it takes Ferrari to the Red Planet.

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