SHIELD, NASA’s Next Mars Probe Won’t Land, It’s Crash!

NASA is the space agency that can boast the most success when it comes to being able to land a rover on Mars, but the process is known to be really costly in terms of energy and difficult to manage. Only China managed to surprise everyone with a successful first attempt when it sent the Zhurong rover to Mars, but of course the US space agency’s experience certainly helped tackle the problem in the best way.

We were all impressed with the precision with which the famous 7 Minutes of Terror was handled during the arrival of the Perseverance Chariot on the Red Planet in 2021, but what if there was an easier, less elaborate way to achieve the same result?

Looks like NASA is thinking about it and maybe It was considered a method that no one would think ofWhich is the opposite of what I’ve done so far. Not a controlled landing but a real accident!

Instead of slowing the spacecraft’s descent at high speed, there is an experimental landing project called SHIELD (Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device), which uses a foldable accordion-shaped base designed to act as a deformation zone capable of absorbing strong impact energy. This seems to be a silly solution It can greatly reduce the cost of sending to Mars for a land vehicle, simplifying the daunting process of entering, disembarking and landing and expanding the options for potential access locations that have hitherto not been considered due to the often improper terrain characteristics.

That’s what Lou Gersh, SHIELD project manager, believes at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“We think we can go to more dangerous areas, where we don’t want to risk putting in a billion dollar rover with our current landing systems. Maybe we can even land at several of these locations in several hard-to-reach locations to build a network.”

Behind SHIELD’s development is much of the progress made with NASA’s Mars Sample Return Campaign. We’ve talked to you about this a few times before, but it doesn’t hurt to remember that the first step of the sample recovery campaign started with the Perseverance Rover Vehicle that collects small rock elements that have been sealed into airtight metal tubes. A future spacecraft will return those samples to Earth inside a small capsule and crash safely into a deserted location.

Studying this mission has led engineers to question whether the general idea is reversible, and Filipor Ormarkovic, a member of the SHIELD team at JPL, tells us well about it.

“If you want to land something hard on Earth, why can’t you do it in the opposite direction to Mars? And if we can do a hard landing on Mars, we know SHIELD can work on planets or moons with denser atmospheres.”

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To test the theory, the engineers had to prove that SHIELD could succeed in A more complex and tedious task, which is to protect sensitive electronics during landing. Testing began, as the team in charge began using a drop turret available from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to test how well the persistence sample tubes could withstand a hard landing on Earth.

The tower is about 27 meters high and is equipped with a giant rope called bow firing systemwhich can throw something to the surface at the same speeds as the landing on Mars.

Urmarkovich was no stranger to similar experiments, having previously worked on tests for the automobile industry, during which dummies are subjected, for example, to crash tests on walls, deformable barriers, and other elements to assess strength and safety. The versions and their sled systems, or rails, which speed up prototype body models to threshold speeds, are used to assess real resistance and potential damage to people inside the future passenger compartment.

“The tests we ran for SHIELD are kind of a vertical version of the tests with a sled system. But instead of a wall, the sudden stop is due to a collision in the ground.”

On August 12, the team gathered at the launch tower with a life-size prototype of SHIELD’s foldable damper, which looks like an inverted pyramid of metal rings designed to absorb shocks. They hung the diluent on the grappling hook and They inserted a smartphone, radio and accelerometer to simulate electronics Likely to be on a spacecraft.

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The shooter was able to. thrust SHIELD toward Earth at approximately 177 kilometers per hourroughly the same as the probe reaching the surface of Mars after being slowed down by atmospheric drag, compared to its initial speed of 23,335 kilometers per hour when it enters the Martian atmosphere.

Previous SHIELD tests had relied on a dirt landing zone, but in this test it was decided to be a little more daring and the team decided to strengthen the whole thing by using a 5cm-thick steel plate, which was placed on the ground for a tougher trial. Landing from what might be exposed to a spacecraft on Mars. The accelerometer on board revealed that the SHIELD device has Impact with a force of about one million newtonsto give an idea, it is as if an object weighing 112 tons had collided with it.

Camera footage confirmed that SHIELD hit the ground at a slight angle, then bounced about one meter into the air before flipping over. The team suspects that this behavior was due to the steel plate, as no such recoil occurred in previous tests conducted on the ground.

But the good news is with the hardware used as testing, and after opening the prototype and recovering the payload, the team discovered that All the devices on board survived, even the smartphone! Although NASA has not provided exact details on this, we would like to know the model used and additional protection mechanisms, which were certainly adopted to avoid the worst. A durable phone or protective case shouldn’t work miracles in similar situations, so we’ll investigate and if we find out additional details, we’ll let you know.

After the quality of these results, the idea of ​​​​continuing work on the project was strengthened, so the responsible teams will work to create a real landing craft based on these principles, to be tested in 2023 and see how far this idea can be realized.

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