Touching Mars safely is a real nail-biting event. Those heart-wrenching moments of entry, descent and descent (EDL) months after sailing to the Red Planet are truly frightening.
The EDL community is busy working on new ideas on how to penetrate Mars’ atmosphere, put the brakes on, and drop payloads. One big new mission is NASA’s Mars Sample Return Project and the challenges the initiative faces.
In the near and long term, Mars will be in a position to be on the receiving end of a shipment of landed devices, not only to support further robotic investigations, but to enhance the human presence in that world. But the descent, filth and security on Mars remains a delicate balance of technical skill, mixed with hard-earned luck.
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Less expensive payloads
“I see two big challenges,” said Zachary Putnam, assistant professor in the Department of Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “Landing really big stuff on the surface, for more advanced robotic missions and human exploration, and landing a lot of smaller, less expensive stuff at a relatively low cost,” Putnam said.
What awaits Mars is clear, Putnam said.
Putnam added that the ability to send many small payloads to the surface of Mars at a lower cost would increase the overload capacity of launch vehicles used to send larger payloads and benefit from improved capabilities of small satellite technology.
“This will allow us to accept more risks, since some failures are less important if there are a lot of landing gear, which may help us improve all our landing technologies over time,” Putnam said. “There is also participation from a larger and more diverse community of scientists and engineers, such as universities.”
tallest tent pole
From a similar viewpoint, Bethany Elman, professor of planetary sciences at the California Institute of Technology and co-director of the Keck Institute for Space Studies in Pasadena, California.
“I think what’s exciting is that technology for reaching the surface of Mars is gaining new interest from companies and government technology programs,” Elman told Space.com. “The Mars landing is the longest tent pole in translating all commercial space system investments on the Moon to Mars, enabling lower cost and increased frequency of Mars exploration.”
Ellmann said there is a need to develop both in small volumes and in large payloads. “This includes developing more cost-effective means of overhead cranes to deliver small scientific tasks. At large scale, human-classified payloads also require different approaches,” she said.
Elman said, six companies received seven contracts from NASA in September to build inflatable aerodynamic deceleration systems for spacecraft entry, landings, landings, and aircraft pickup missions. NASA applications and potential commercial missions will benefit from this advanced technology.
double the mass
Today, it all comes back to JPL’s focus over the past 20 years, said JPL’s Allen Chen, director of engineering and integration for Mars Sample Return (MSR) programs. “And that means landing more on Mars… and landing on Mars more accurately than before.”
Before the experts of EDL is an essential component of the MSR’s mission; The sample retrieval probe carries with it a NASA-led Mars Ascent Rocket and a pair of Mars helicopters.
This lander will land near the then persistence site of Jezero Crater, carry Martian artifacts and then return those bits and pieces (and an atmospheric sample) to Earth for detailed study.
“The sample retrieval unit now weighs just over two metric tons,” Chen told Space.com. “That’s nearly twice the mass we put in a persevering rover.” “That’s a big difference in terms of what we need to get to Earth. It’s a lot bigger than what we’ve landed before,” he said.
Read more: An ingenious helicopter on Mars heads toward the ancient river delta on the 31st flight
The concept of celestial levitation – used to land the rover on Mars and persevere – does not play the role of this round in the sampler landing instrument. Instead, the craft will turn itself off using built-in old missiles.
For the exact part of the MSR mission, Chin said there is a “double” to using the Relative Terrain Navigation (TRN) system, a capability that provides a map relative position fix that can be used to target precisely defined landing points on Mars while out of danger.
Using the TRN, and adding a lot of fuel to the Sample Retrieval Lander, would allow the vehicle to land within 60 meters or better of the target. “We have to land a bigger vehicle in a certain parking lot…in a certain parking lot,” Chen said.
Additionally, the adaptive range trigger is enabling smarter subjective decision making about when the probe will deploy its parachute.
And there’s more. The landing parachute itself grows to a design of 80 feet (24 m). “We want to reinforce the canopy so we can handle a much larger vehicle load,” Chen said.
melee pillars missile
The Mars Perseverance vehicle is already probing the landscape beforehand to help ascertain the primary parking spot for touchdown. “For the first time we can see everything that matters to the probe,” Chen said. “We’ll know exactly what’s there and that’s a huge advantage.”
The goal is to land within a few hundred meters of the Perseverance Wagon, or a place where a wheeled robot can easily drive to deliver Martian samples to the Sample Retrieval Lander. Care will be taken not to land too close to persevere, Chen said, due to concern about the ruckus that arose as the rocket plume blasted off the surface rocks and sand.
“Given what we have now, and the need to take down a huge amount of mass very precisely, what you’re seeing for us is a huge step forward, but really an evolution of what we’ve been doing in the past. We’re excited for the opportunity to show what we can do.”
kink in the curve
Since the early 1990s, Rob Manning, now chief engineer at JPL, has been actively involved in planning the EDL on Mars.
As for MSR’s upcoming efforts, “I wouldn’t say the word risk because I don’t know how to define risks, but there are a lot of development challenges,” Manning said. “I hope we don’t run into new physics.”
Looking beyond MSR, Manning said there is a “hitch in the curve” for EDL.
“Supersonic Retro Propulsion is a whole new game,” Manning said. Supersonic retrograde propulsion, for short SRP, is a method of slowing a vehicle using a retrorocket in a supersonic system.
“I think the big step job in the future is to take a stab and try an SRP on Mars, and actually make that work. I think it’s going to work. Everyone agrees it can work. It’s just kind of a chicken,” Manning said.
SRP’s work at JPL has benefited by collaborating with SpaceX and Elon Musk, the company’s president. “They allowed us to monitor the quality of their booster returns flying in just the right field,” Manning said, noting a complex phenomenon, such as the interaction of the rocket plume with the supersonic alert being generated around the reentrant booster.
“It’s very hard to mathematically put your arms around it…it’s very hard to parse it,” Manning said.
For the EDL community, there is a lot of work ahead in terms of new research, new technical knowledge, and devices to showcase new capabilities.
“Especially the push by MSR, the sample recovery tool fits right between where we go with the large landing system and where we go next, on a human scale,” Manning said.
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