A NASA lander is going to crash… The project may seem a bit crazy. NASA plans to send a spacecraft to crash into the surface of the red planet. In fact, it is a way to try a new way to land there. The project, the details of which have been published on the website of the Jet Propulsion LaboratoryIt involves an experimental lander called SHIELD, and early tests are inconclusive.
An experimental NASA lander called SHIELD
This NASA lander will eventually replace current landing systems. The US agency uses them to land their ships on the planet Mars. Since it began exploring the red planet, NASA has accomplished the feat of landing on the planet Mars several times. Since Viking 1 and Viking 2 in 1975, nine spacecraft have set foot on the Red Planet. Currently, three of them are still active. These are Insight, Curiosity and Perseverance. The first machine is stationary and is intended for the study of the internal structure of the planet. Instead, the other two have wheels to move on Martian soil, but at a relatively low speed.
Every landing of a spaceship on the planet Mars is a technical feat that requires overcoming many challenges. Each time, the process of entering the planet’s atmosphere and gently landing on the ground requires a complicated and very expensive process. In fact, it is necessary to protect the device that must arrive in one piece.
Until now, NASA has relied on systems intended to slow the rate of fall. They can be state-of-the-art parachutes but also systems to absorb impacts on contact with the ground. Among these different means, NASA uses airbags and jet packs. They are equipped with turbines that emit a jet of steam for a smooth landing.
Now NASA engineers are devising an easier and cheaper way to get to the Martian surface. Instead of slowing down the ship’s descent to land on Mars, they simply intend to let it crash to the ground!
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A Martian crash test at 200 km/h
NASA engineers and technicians have developed an experimental lander model. And they intend to crash it against the planet Mars at a speed of 200 kjm/h! This prototype called SHIELD (Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device) is a completely original concept. The main element consists of a folding base. It acts like a car’s crumple zone designed to absorb the energy of a violent impact.
What motivates the development of this new Martian landing system is the need to recover samples, particularly Martian rocks. Samples collected by the Perseverance rover. When the time comes, a ship must bring these samples back to Earth aboard a capsule that will land safely and safely on Earth. This mission is very important. In fact, it will allow us to know in more detail the composition of the red planet.
NASA engineers thought that if it was possible to bring samples back to Earth from Mars and ensure a smooth landing, it should be possible to do the same to land a spacecraft on Mars.
SHIELD is a kind of shield. It has no braking system and is installed under the ship to land on the planet Mars. During the fall through the Martian atmosphere, the shield must absorb the very violent impact at the moment of contact with the ground.
The ship would take advantage of the Martian atmosphere. It is true that it is less dense than that of the Earth, but it would reduce its speed to just under 200 km/h before hitting the ground.
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Protect sensitive devices when landing
To test the SHIELD shield prototype, NASA engineers used a drop tower. This 27 m tall tower belongs to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and is used to test the strength of sampling tubes. This tower is equipped with a system that allows SHIELD to be propelled at the same speed that it would reach in an impact on Mars, that is, 200 km/h.
The researchers performed a first test in a vertical position to simulate the fall. The future Mars lander hit a steel plate under the tower at an actual speed of 177 km/h in less than two seconds. This speed would roughly correspond to the speed reached by the Martian lander after being slowed by the friction of the Red Planet’s atmosphere from its initial speed of 15,000 mph. The impact was extremely violent as the onboard accelerometer registered a force of 1 million newtons!
For the test, the SHIELD shield of various electronic devices is overcome. Despite this colossal force that might suggest that everything was destroyed, this test was a success. All devices on board survived the impact without any damage.
The next step is to set up an actual mission. The effectiveness of this system will be tested on the planet Mars.