Friday, December 7, 2012
Mars Entry, Descent and Landing Technology Advancements
Robert D. Braun, Professor, Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology
The United States has successfully landed seven robotic systems on the surface of Mars. Safely placing the Curiosity rover within its Gale crater landing site required increasing our landed mass capability to 1 metric ton while improving landed accuracy. Meeting these challenges required improving existing entry, descent and landing (EDL) technology and the invention of a new landing architecture: the SkyCrane. Subsequent robotic exploration missions under consideration for the 2020 decade may require an additional increase in landed mass or precision, while current plans forhuman exploration of Mars call for the landing of 40-80 metric ton surface elements at scientiﬁcally-interesting locations within close proximity (tens of meters) of pre-positioned robotic assets. These future mission requirements pose significant challenges for the present suite of entry, descent and landing technologies. This lecture will summarize past successful entry, descent, and landing systems and approaches currently being developed by entry systems engineers to increase landed performance (mass, accuracy, and site elevation). The constraints of continued reliance on Viking-era space qualified technology will be highlighted and new entry, descent and landing approaches and technologies will be described. Promising technology innovations, including the use of alternate aeroshell configurations, novel thermal protection system materials, inflatable aerodynamic decelerators, supersonic retropropulsion, and pinpoint landing guidance will be described.