Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Challenges of landing on alien worlds

10.10.2002


Three ESA missions are due to send down robotic `spaceprobes` when they arrive at their alien destinations. Since these craft will be going where no one has gone before, how can scientists be sure what it will be like down there? How do you ensure that your spaceprobe is prepared for anything?



Experts take every precaution to ensure that these probes will not burn up entering an alien atmosphere, or meet a spectacular, untimely end via a crash landing on inhospitable terrain. These probes expect the worst.
For example, the Huygens probe, which is currently on its journey to Titan, Saturn`s largest moon, on-board the Cassini spacecraft, can withstand temperatures of up to 18 000°C in the shockwave in front of the heat shield. This is about three times the Sun`s surface temperature. Why? The heat generated as Huygens travels through Titan`s thick atmosphere will be immense.

Jean-Pierre Lebreton, Huygens Project Scientist, says "Things will get interesting once Cassini draws close to Saturn. We`ll get the best views of Saturn and Titan that we ever had. We`ll also observe Titan to verify that our models are correct. If we find the atmospheric density is different from what we expected, we could consider slightly changing the angle at which Huygens enters to protect it from overheating or the parachute deploying wrongly. However, late changes may bring new risks."


Scientists chose the site for the landing of the Mars Express lander, Beagle 2, very carefully. Isidis Planitia, the chosen site, is largely flat without too many rocks to jeopardise a safe landing. However, Mars`s famous planetwide dust storms were taken into consideration. "Major dust storms are not expected to occur at the time and place of the landing. However, there may be strong lateral winds," says Mars Express Project Scientist Agustin Chicarro.

ESA`s Rosetta lander, which will be the first man-made object to land on a comet, has another set of challenges altogether. "Firstly, we don`t know anything about how rough the surface is," says Rosetta Project Scientist Gerhard Schwehm. "It could be covered with fluffy snow like the Alps or it could be hard rocks and craters. We can, however, be sure that it will not be smooth and flat resembling parking lots."

Scientists designed Rosetta`s landing gear to cope with most nasty surprises as soon as it touches down on Comet Wirtanen in 2011. Two harpoons will anchor the probe to the surface. The self-adjusting landing gear will ensure that it stays upright, even on a slope. The lander`s feet will drill into the ground. These devices will help counteract the fact that there is no gravity on a comet.

Observations of Mars, Titan, and Comet Wirtanen will continue frantically while the spacecrafts approach their final destination. In this way, scientists will be able to make last-minute adjustments to the timing of the landing. Information from other space missions and ground-based observations will increase scientists` understanding about the targets of the missions. In Rosetta`s case, this will help to determine the comet`s probable size and speed of rotation. These will help improve our `models` for comet behaviour. However, for Rosetta, they may come too late. "We`ll just have to see if the models we`re using are good enough" says Schwehm.

Monica Talevi | European Space Agency
Further information:
http://www.esa.int

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Pulses of electrons manipulate nanomagnets and store information
21.07.2017 | American Institute of Physics

nachricht Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion
21.07.2017 | National Institutes of Natural Sciences

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Manipulating Electron Spins Without Loss of Information

Physicists have developed a new technique that uses electrical voltages to control the electron spin on a chip. The newly-developed method provides protection from spin decay, meaning that the contained information can be maintained and transmitted over comparatively large distances, as has been demonstrated by a team from the University of Basel’s Department of Physics and the Swiss Nanoscience Institute. The results have been published in Physical Review X.

For several years, researchers have been trying to use the spin of an electron to store and transmit information. The spin of each electron is always coupled...

Im Focus: The proton precisely weighted

What is the mass of a proton? Scientists from Germany and Japan successfully did an important step towards the most exact knowledge of this fundamental constant. By means of precision measurements on a single proton, they could improve the precision by a factor of three and also correct the existing value.

To determine the mass of a single proton still more accurate – a group of physicists led by Klaus Blaum and Sven Sturm of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear...

Im Focus: On the way to a biological alternative

A bacterial enzyme enables reactions that open up alternatives to key industrial chemical processes

The research team of Prof. Dr. Oliver Einsle at the University of Freiburg's Institute of Biochemistry has long been exploring the functioning of nitrogenase....

Im Focus: The 1 trillion tonne iceberg

Larsen C Ice Shelf rift finally breaks through

A one trillion tonne iceberg - one of the biggest ever recorded -- has calved away from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica, after a rift in the ice,...

Im Focus: Laser-cooled ions contribute to better understanding of friction

Physics supports biology: Researchers from PTB have developed a model system to investigate friction phenomena with atomic precision

Friction: what you want from car brakes, otherwise rather a nuisance. In any case, it is useful to know as precisely as possible how friction phenomena arise –...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Closing the Sustainability Circle: Protection of Food with Biobased Materials

21.07.2017 | Event News

»We are bringing Additive Manufacturing to SMEs«

19.07.2017 | Event News

The technology with a feel for feelings

12.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

NASA looks to solar eclipse to help understand Earth's energy system

21.07.2017 | Earth Sciences

Stanford researchers develop a new type of soft, growing robot

21.07.2017 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Vortex photons from electrons in circular motion

21.07.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>