Technology that could help humanity land heavy equipment on Mars will undergo a test in space early next week.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V The rocket is scheduled to launch the Polar Surveyor System-2 (JPSS-2) Joint Weather Satellite from California’s Vandenberg Space Force Base early Tuesday morning (November 1).
JPSS-2 – a US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration craft that will help researchers improve weather forecasts and monitor the effects of Climate changeamong other missions—not the only payload aboard the Atlas V. Also on Tuesday will a low-Earth orbit flight test of the Inflatable Deceleration Vehicle (LOFTID), a technology demonstration whose applications could extend far beyond our planet.
Related: Powerful new Earth observation satellite JPSS-2 to study the butterfly effect on weather
A new type of landing gear
LOFTID is an expandable antenna cover, the kind of heat shield that engineers are looking to send to the Red Planet. thin Mars atmosphere makes landing there difficult; The next spacecraft is experiencing some clouds, but not as much as it feels in Earth’s air.
Therefore, it takes more than parachutes to drop cargo safely Mars. Spirit and . game Chance Rovering vehicles, for example, also used bouncy airbags that cushioned their fall. The agency has set a rocket powered sky crane To land her curiosity and perseverance Rover vehicles, both the size of an SUV and weighing about a ton (here on Earth, anyway; they’re lighter on Mars, where the surface gravitational force is only 40% as strong as our planet).
However, these missions had greatly exceeded the Heavenly Sling’s weight limits. New entry, landing and landing technology will be needed to get very heavy payloads — home units for a future research base, for example — to safely land on Mars, NASA officials have confirmed.
Expandable air shells are one possible solution. These saucer-like structures are designed to press tight enough to be launched aboard conventional rockets. But it swells dramatically when it reaches its planetary destination, which may provide enough resistance in the atmosphere to help much more massive terrestrial bodies persevere or Curiosity of. (Decelerators aren’t the complete answer; parachutes will still be part of the plan, too.)
The $93 million LOFTID project started just five years ago, but the basic idea goes way back.
“The original concept actually comes from the 1950s and 1960s,” Joe Del Corso, LOFTID project manager at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, said during a news conference earlier this month. “Unfortunately, during that time, they didn’t have the materials or structures; they weren’t advanced enough to actually realize the ability.”
NASA has conducted ground and atmospheric tests with expandable aerodynamic shells, including a 2015 experiment that carried one high into the sky over Hawaii aboard a giant airship. (However, this test did not go according to plan; the supersonic parachute is attached to the airframe. rupture during descent.)
But LOFTID will take testing to a new level.
“It’s the first flight test in low Earth orbit of this technology, and the largest test article to date,” Trudy Curtis, director of technology offerings for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, said during the press conference.
Related: To land safely on Mars, keep a straight line and fly right
LOFTID is tightly packaged inside a bag that is 7.4 feet long and 4.3 feet wide (2.3 x 1.3 meters). It is located below the JPSS-2 on the upper stage of Atlas V’s Centaur.
Centaur JPSS-2 will propagate into a sun-synchronous polar orbit about 28 minutes after liftoff on Tuesday, then maneuver on its way to its return path. Seventy-five minutes into the flight, the Centaur will launch LOFTID, which will return to a land.
The aeroshell will have expanded to its full width of 19.7 feet (6 meters) by this point. LOFTID will blast through our atmosphere, experiencing extremes of about 2,600 degrees Fahrenheit (1,400 degrees Celsius) before deploying parachutes and splashing softly into the Pacific Ocean near the Hawaiian Islands.
Members of the expedition team will look at the data LOFTID collects on the way, and use it to complete their understanding of the scalable archipelago’s capabilities and capabilities. This potential is intriguing, Curtis said, and isn’t limited to missions for the Red Planet.
“This technology could eventually enable us to send new missions to Mars [and] Venus; Even the largest moon of Saturn, TitanShe said, “It becomes a possibility because of the dense atmosphere there. It can also be used to return the payload to Earth.”
ULA is particularly interested in that angle of return to Earth. The launch company is partnering with NASA on LOFTID, under an unfunded Space Law Agreement, because it wants to assess the potential use of the decelerator on its future missions. Vulcan Centaur missilethe successor to Atlas V.
ULA wants to reuse a file blue origin The BE-4 engines powering the Vulcan Centaur’s first stage, and expandable air flaps like LOFTID could be a good way to safely return these valuable hardware back to Earth.
“All the data we get from the LOFTID mission will be used to help correlate models and gain a much better understanding of what the Vulcan reuse system will face,” said James Kosin, operations engineer in ULA’s Advanced Software Division, He said in a statement (Opens in a new tab).
Mike Wall is the author of “Abroad (Opens in a new tab)Book (Great Grand Publishing House, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for an alien life. Follow him on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter Tweet embed (Opens in a new tab) or on Facebook (Opens in a new tab).
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