It’s pretty awesome.
For years, NASA has used tons of mechanisms, from giant airbags and parachutes to jetpacks, to land its rovers softly on the surface of Mars.
Now the agency plans to test an entirely new approach, which involves intentionally crashing its spacecraft into the Martian surface but shielding it with a “crumple zone” – the same basic principle that protects passengers in a car. during a collision.
As NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) notes in a blog post, scientists are tinkering with concepts for an experimental lander they’re calling the Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device, or SHIELD for short – a smart device that could allow us to send rovers to even more treacherous areas of the red planet.
SHIELD, JPL notes, “would use a collapsible accordion-shaped base that acts like a car’s crumple zone and absorbs the energy of a hard impact.”
To test the new approach, NASA dropped the electronics at more than 100 miles per hour from a tower and into a full-size mockup of SHIELD’s attenuator, an inverted pyramid made of metal rings.
The experiment was, as JPL put it, a “running success”.
“The only hardware that was damaged were plastic components that we weren’t worried about,” SHIELD project manager Lou Giersch said in the post.
beyond the red
Using this technology, JPL says, could make landings on Mars much cheaper “by simplifying the tedious process of entering, descending and landing” – and could open the door to more landing opportunities. on the barren planet.
“We think we could go to more dangerous areas, where we wouldn’t want to risk trying to land a billion-dollar rover with our current landing systems,” Giersch said. “Maybe we could even land several in different hard-to-reach places to build a network.”
The technology could have implications that go far beyond our nearest planetary neighbor.
“If we can make a hard landing on Mars,” added Velibor Ćormarković, a member of the SHIELD team, “we know that SHIELD could work on planets or moons with denser atmospheres.”
More March: NASA just fired tiny bullets at its Mars spacecraft