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 FAST detects neutral hydrogen emission from extragalactic galaxies for the first time
02.07.2020 | Chinese Academy of Sciences Headquarters

nachricht First exposed planetary core discovered
01.07.2020 | Universität Bern

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: Electrons in the fast lane

Solar cells based on perovskite compounds could soon make electricity generation from sunlight even more efficient and cheaper. The laboratory efficiency of these perovskite solar cells already exceeds that of the well-known silicon solar cells. An international team led by Stefan Weber from the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) in Mainz has found microscopic structures in perovskite crystals that can guide the charge transport in the solar cell. Clever alignment of these "electron highways" could make perovskite solar cells even more powerful.

Solar cells convert sunlight into electricity. During this process, the electrons of the material inside the cell absorb the energy of the light....

Im Focus: The lightest electromagnetic shielding material in the world

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight.

Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic...

Im Focus: Gentle wall contact – the right scenario for a fusion power plant

Quasi-continuous power exhaust developed as a wall-friendly method on ASDEX Upgrade

A promising operating mode for the plasma of a future power plant has been developed at the ASDEX Upgrade fusion device at Max Planck Institute for Plasma...

Im Focus: ILA Goes Digital – Automation & Production Technology for Adaptable Aircraft Production

Live event – July 1, 2020 - 11:00 to 11:45 (CET)
"Automation in Aerospace Industry @ Fraunhofer IFAM"

The Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM l Stade is presenting its forward-looking R&D portfolio for the first time at...

Im Focus: AI monitoring of laser welding processes - X-ray vision and eavesdropping ensure quality

With an X-ray experiment at the European Synchrotron ESRF in Grenoble (France), Empa researchers were able to demonstrate how well their real-time acoustic monitoring of laser weld seams works. With almost 90 percent reliability, they detected the formation of unwanted pores that impair the quality of weld seams. Thanks to a special evaluation method based on artificial intelligence (AI), the detection process is completed in just 70 milliseconds.

Laser welding is a process suitable for joining metals and thermoplastics. It has become particularly well established in highly automated production, for...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

International conference QuApps shows status quo of quantum technology

02.07.2020 | Event News

Dresden Nexus Conference 2020: Same Time, Virtual Format, Registration Opened

19.05.2020 | Event News

Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium AWK'21 will take place on June 10 and 11, 2021

07.04.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Protective antibodies identified for rare, polio-like disease in children

06.07.2020 | Health and Medicine

How a mutation on the novel coronavirus has come to dominate the globe

06.07.2020 | Life Sciences

Order from noise: how randomness and collective dynamics define a stem cell

06.07.2020 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>