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Cork on mission to Mars

Cork on mission to Mars

Project cTPS – Crushable TPS - an Innovative Earth re-entry capsule forms part of the European Space Agency’s Mars exploration programme.

By combining innovative engineering and cork, the consortium formed by Amorim Cork Composites, Critical Materials, PIEP and ISQ has developed a new Earth re-entry capsule (ERC) for the European Space Agency (ESA), that will transport soil samples from Mars back to Earth.

The challenge involved the design and production of a Earth re-entry capsule concept, with optimal thermo-mechanical characteristics to ensure passive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere. This solution don’t have a parachute or other auxiliary impact-attenuation systems at the time of contact with the earth's surface, while ensuring the structural integrity of the container that will hold soil samples from the planet Mars. 

This is an innovative solution, with outstanding level of integration of different materials in the construction of the capsule combined with a defined geometric configuration, thus enabling full compliance with the specifications defined by the ESA for the Mars exploration programme. 

It is expected that the samples transported by the re-entry capsule reach Earth in 2026.

  • Benefits

    The success of the project lies on the multidisciplinary skills of the different partners involved. A key role was played on the new type of materials specifically proposed for the project. The solution delivers a multifunctional system, which can withstand the very high thermal payloads and dynamic loads associated with re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and at the same time complies with all the pre-defined requirements, and notability didn’t surpassed the deceleration limit of the container at the moment of it’s impact with the Earth’s surface.


    An additional benefit of this new solution also include an additional 25% weight reduction of the capsule’s mass compared to the initial requirements defined by ESA, elimination of auxiliary systems to attenuate impact loads and reduction of production costs.

“The final overview of the project is extremely positive. In addition to providing ESA with an Earth re-entry capsule solution, it meets all the requirements initially defined for the project. Historically, this is an area where Portugal has a very limited intervention and we’re convinced that this work will increase global perception of Portuguese engineering skills for the aerospace industry,” adding, “It’s important to point out that this project involves a tremendous level of technical complexity.”

Paulo Antunes, Critical Materials

Looking ahead

Having concluded this phase, the consortium aims to continue the development of solutions for the European Space Agency’s, in new projects in the near future. The ambition is to rise on the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) of the Earth re-entry capsule from the current TRL 4/5 to a TRL 6/7.

Cork on mission to Mars

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