The Martian sample return shield is tested with bullets

Among the many problems that will plague a Mars sample return mission, there is also the problem of micro-meteoroids, which have now steadily but randomly collided with the spacecraft in orbit, as happened with the James Webb Space Telescope shortly before its implementation. If the damage is usually minimal and no special interventions are needed, this does not necessarily mean that it will always be so, and in the case of such a delicate and expensive mission as the future recovery of Mars samples, it is necessary to avoid any kind of problem, at least within the limits of possible .

So NASA launched a series of resistance tests on the materials that will make up the spacecraft’s shield for the return of the Mars sample, based on real micro-ballistics fired at squares of meteor anti-shielding material that will protect the orbiter’s return of the Mars sample on its return journey to Earth.

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During the tests, which take place at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility, near Las Cruces, New Mexico, the shield must withstand bullets arriving at such high speeds that if an aircraft were traveling too fast, it would be able to cover the road. NEW YORK — Dennis Garcia, White Sands test engineer, said San Francisco is in less than 5 minutes.

However, these velocities are still not as fast as the orbiting meteorites and space junk fragments in space, so engineers must use computer models to simulate the actual velocities, which It can reach more than 80 kilometers per second. At such speeds, even dust can cause damage to a spacecraft, noted Bruno Sarli, an engineer at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who is overseeing the tests.

The remote hypervelocity test laboratory, where the tests are taking place, has been in the service of NASA since the era of the space shuttle and thanks to it, engineers have been able to develop the materials that currently protect the International Space Station, and all commercial spacecraft that carry the crew, to ward off damage from impacts of debris and rock fragments in outer space.

The gun used to launch small space shells at the armor material has two stages, the first is used Conventional gunpowder to run the projectile. The second stage gives To the bullet an additional boost using highly pressurized hydrogen gas In a smaller tube, it resembles a car piston. In the statement, the researchers said the pressure in the gun was so high that it would destroy the building if it exploded. Engineers found that rather than relying on a thick block of metal to repel bullets, armor provides better protection when made up of multiple thin layers.

The Mars Sample Return Orbiter to be jointly built by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) aims to return precious Martian rock samples to Earth that NASA’s Perseverance rover currently collects on the planet’s surface. The operation will be the first of its kind and will allow scientists for the first time to hold in their hands some of the rocks extracted from another planet, which is likely to be interesting in terms of geological study and the search for signs of vital activity, present or past. In fact, we already have material from the Red Planet at our disposal, many times in the history of Martian meteorites that have fallen to Earth, but these rocks have spent millions or even billions of years in space and have been completely changed by time and radiation. Mars meteorites also pollute instantly when they strike our planet, making it difficult to look for signs of microorganisms on the Red Planet.

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