NASA wants to make a hard landing on Mars

(ORDO NEWS) — NASA has successfully landed on Mars nine times, using state-of-the-art parachutes, massive airbags and jetpacks to bring spacecraft safely to the surface. Now engineers are testing whether the easiest way to get to the surface of Mars is to crash.

Instead of slowing down the spacecraft’s high-speed descent, the experimental design for the SHIELD lander (Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device) will use an accordion-like foldable base that absorbs impact energy.

Much of SHIELD’s design is derived from work done on NASA’s Mars sample return mission.

“If you want to land something solid on Earth, why can’t you do it on Mars too?” said Velibor Čormarkovic, a member of the SHIELD team at JPL.

“If we can make a hard landing on Mars, then SHIELD will work on planets or moons with denser atmospheres.”

To test this theory, engineers needed to prove that SHIELD could protect sensitive electronics during landing.

The team used a special turret at JPL for the test. The 27-meter tower is equipped with a sling-like launcher, with which the object is thrown to the surface at high speed.

The team gathered at the tower with a full-size prototype of the SHIELD collapsible shock absorber – an inverted pyramid of metal rings that absorb impacts.

Scientists put a smartphone, radio, and accelerometer into SHIELD to mimic the electronics the spacecraft would carry.

The researchers watched as SHIELD climbed to the top of the tower. Just two seconds after lifting, the wait was over: the launcher launched SHIELD into the ground at a speed of 177 km/h.

This is the speed that the lander reaches near the surface of Mars.

Previous SHIELD tests used a dirt landing zone, but for this test, the team placed a 2-inch-thick steel plate on the ground to make the landing more rigid.

Video footage of the test shows that SHIELD hit at a slight angle, then bounced about 1 meter into the air before flipping over. The team suspects a steel plate was the cause of the rebound.

After opening the prototype and extracting the electronic payload, the team found that the onboard devices had survived.

“The only hardware that was damaged was some plastic components that we weren’t worried about,” the researchers said. “Overall, this test was a success!”

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