To get machines onto Mars, NASA has been deploying various landing methods that over the years have included air bags, parachutes, and jetpacks.
Indeed, spectacular high-definition footage captured last year showed how the space agency deployed parachutes and jetpacks to get its Perseverance rover safely onto the surface of the red planet.
Now, the Mars team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California is testing a fourth method of getting apparatus onto the martian surface — using a deliberate crash landing.
A video (below) released this week shows the JPL team testing its Simplified High Impact Energy Landing Device (SHIELD) lander concept, which could offer future mission planners a low-cost way of reaching Mars.
As you can see in the footage, SHIELD uses a collapsible, accordion-like base to absorb the energy of a hard landing.
In the test, SHIELD was sent hurtling toward the ground from the top of a nearly 90-foot-tall (27-meter-tall) tower. To fully test the integrity of the design, SHIELD landed on a steel plate to ensure the impact was even harder than what it would experience on Mars.
That accordion-like base clearly takes a heavy hit, crumpling as it smashes onto the plate at 110 mph (177 kph). But to the team’s delight, the components inside SHIELD, which included a smartphone, remained intact.
While SHIELD may not be ideal for getting something as large and delicate as a car-sized rover onto the surface of Mars, the method could certainly be used to get smaller and more robust science apparatus to the distant planet.
As JPL continues to test and refine SHIELD, hopefully it won’t be too long before we hear about a Mars mission that plans to deploy the device for real.
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