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Solar Wing’ Builders’ Building Changes Hands

The instruments aboard the Mars InSight lander, the first mission dedicated to investigating the deep interior of Mars, are powered by the circular solar arrays developed by Goleta's Orbital ATK, now owned by Northrop Grumman.

Engineers and fabricators at the Orbital ATK building tucked away on Pine Avenue in Goleta’s Old Town built the solar “wings” that unfurled flawlessly on the Red Planet shortly after landing in November 2018. The company, acquired by Northrop Grumman Corp. in 2017, has been leasing the space, which just changed hands, Hayes Commercial announced on Thursday, building a special 24,000 square-foot high-bay structure in 2010 as a clean space.

Orbital, now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, placed the twin seven-foot solar arrays aboard the InSight Mars lander, which blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in May; the trip to Mars takes six months. The circular arrays have since then filled the batteries that power the instruments. “One hundred percent mission success is our goal,” said Northrop’s project manager Jim Spink. The solar arrays also fuel InSight’s robotic arm, which the NASA team on Earth has been using to place the instruments carefully on the surface. Most recently a temperature probe was placed on February 13 about three feet from the seismometer positioned in December, according to NASA reports. The wings can generate as much as 700 watts, and 200 watts once Mars dust obscures the cells on the lander, which has a lifespan of about two years.