Tag Archives: Mars 2020

Mars 2020 gets fourth candidate landing site

The science team for the next American Mars rover, Mars 2020, has decided to consider a fourth candidate landing site, located between two other candidate sites.

The site has been dubbed “Midway,” because it’s roughly halfway between two other candidate landing locations — Jezero delta and Northeast Syrtis. The third previously identified candidate is the Columbia Hills region of Gusev Crater, which NASA’s now-defunct Spirit rover explored after touching down in January 2004.

Jezero, Northeast Syrtis and Columbia Hills were selected as finalists at the third 2020 rover landing site workshop, which was held in February 2017.

Midway has the same morphologic units as Northeast Syrtis and is relatively close to Jezero, explained John Mustard, a professor in the Department of Earth Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “It has emerged from Mars 2020 science team members I believe brainstorming on possibly getting two birds with one rover,” Mustard told Inside Outer Space.

Based on this story, it sounds to me as this new site has emerged as the favorite. It would put the rover down in the transition zone between Mars’s northern low plains and its southern highlands, an area where evidence of the receding shoreline of any past intermittent ocean might exist. It would also allow it to study geology similar to two previous candidate sites.

One problem they may have is that this candidate site has not yet been photographed in detail by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s (MRO) high resolution camera, as have the other sites. They will need to get time on MRO to do this in order to make sure this site is acceptable.

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Heat shield for 2020 Mars rover cracks during testing

The heat shield to be used during landing by the U.S.’s 2020 Mars rover cracked during recent testing.

The heat shield’s structural damage, located near the shield’s outer edge, happened during a weeklong test at the Denver facility of contractor Lockheed Martin Space, according to a NASA statement released Thursday (April 26). The test was intended to subject the heat shield to forces about 20 percent greater than those it will experience when it hits the Martian atmosphere for entry, descent and landing operations.

The Mars 2020 team found the fracture on April 12. Mission management at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, will work with Lockheed Martin to lead an examination of the cause of the crack and to decide if any design changes should be made, NASA officials said in the statement.

They do not expect this issue to cause them to miss the 2020 launch window. However, it is astonishing that the heat shield should fail in this manner. First, to save development costs this rover was essentially a rebuild of Curiosity. The new heat shield should have been the same design, and thus should have already been proven capable of surviving this test. Second, Lockheed Martin has been making heat shields of all kinds for decades. This is not cutting edge technology.

Third, note that Lockheed Martin is building Orion, and it also experienced cracks in the capsule’s structure (not its heat shield) during manufacture and testing.

Overall, these facts suggest that some fundamental manufacturing error has occurred, and that there might also be a quality control problem at Lockheed Martin.

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NASA completes first high altitude supersonic test of Mars 2020 rover parachute

NASA successfully completed its first high altitude supersonic test of the parachute that the Mars 2020 rover will use as part of its landing operation.

The rocket carried the payload as high as about 32 miles (51 kilometers). Forty-two seconds later, at an altitude of 26 miles (42 kilometers) and a velocity of 1.8 times the speed of sound, the test conditions were met and the Mars parachute successfully deployed. Thirty-five minutes after launch, ASPIRE splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean about 34 miles (54 kilometers) southeast of Wallops Island. “Everything went according to plan or better than planned,” said Clark. “We not only proved that we could get our payload to the correct altitude and velocity conditions to best mimic a parachute deployment in the Martian atmosphere, but as an added bonus, we got to see our parachute in action as well.”

The parachute tested during this first flight was almost an exact copy of the parachute used to land NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory successfully on the Red Planet in 2012. Future tests will evaluate the performance of a strengthened parachute that could also be used in future Mars missions. The Mars 2020 team will use data from these tests to finalize the design for its mission.

There is a nice video of this test flight at the link.

At first glance one wonders why they need to do these tests, since the parachute system is going to be almost identical to the one used by Curiosity in 2012, and that worked perfectly. However, they really aren’t testing the parachute but the system to fly and test future parachutes at the high altitudes that mimic Martian conditions. With this test technology working and available, it will make it possible to test all kinds of parachute designs for use on Mars, even Rogollo hang-glider chutes.

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