In a recently released video, engineers showed a prototype accordion-like lander being dropped from a tall tower.
The experimental lander design is called SHIELD. It is essentially a disc-shaped lander, equipped with a springy crumple zone on the base designed to absorb the impact of a hard landing.
You may ask why such a lander is needed. In the end, NASA successfully landed on Mars nine times, using a variety of methods to cushion landings, including parachutes, airbags, and jetpacks.
Well, it may not look very elegant, but an emergency landing could reduce the cost of landing on Mars by simplifying the risky and expensive process.
“We think we could go to more dangerous areas where we wouldn’t want to risk trying to host a billion-dollar rover with our current landing systems,” JPL SHIELD project leader Lou Hirsch said in a statement.
“Perhaps we could even plant a few of them in different hard-to-reach places to build a network.”
The design is based on NASA’s Mars Sample Return Program, which is looking at ways to return received samples from the Red Planet to Earth without any damage.
To test the design, the team lifted SHIELD to the top of a 27-meter tower and dropped it to see if the lander’s awkward electronics could survive the rebound.
SHIELD hit the floor at 177 kilometers per hour in just 2 seconds. This is about the speed you would expect from a lander as it falls to the surface of Mars after being slowed down by drag from the planet’s rarefied atmosphere.
According to all reports, the landing was successful. The springy base of the device softened the blow and threw him about a meter into the air.
Its built-in accelerometer, which survived the impact, showed that the lander collided with a force of about 1 million newtons, comparable to a 112-ton impact.
“The only hardware that was damaged was some plastic components that we weren’t worried about,” Hirsch said. “Overall, this test was a success!”
So far everything is going according to plan. The team is currently going to finalize their design and see if this pilot project can actually be a viable means of landing on Mars.
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