Space Science Reviews

, Volume 170, Issue 1–4, pp 793–835 | Cite as

Assessment of Environments for Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent, and Surface Operations

  • Ashwin R. Vasavada
  • Allen Chen
  • Jeffrey R. Barnes
  • P. Daniel Burkhart
  • Bruce A. Cantor
  • Alicia M. Dwyer-Cianciolo
  • Robin L. Fergason
  • David P. Hinson
  • Hilary L. Justh
  • David M. Kass
  • Stephen R. Lewis
  • Michael A. Mischna
  • James R. Murphy
  • Scot C. R. Rafkin
  • Daniel Tyler
  • Paul G. Withers
Article

Abstract

The Mars Science Laboratory mission aims to land a car-sized rover on Mars’ surface and operate it for at least one Mars year in order to assess whether its field area was ever capable of supporting microbial life. Here we describe the approach used to identify, characterize, and assess environmental risks to the landing and rover surface operations. Novel entry, descent, and landing approaches will be used to accurately deliver the 900-kg rover, including the ability to sense and “fly out” deviations from a best-estimate atmospheric state. A joint engineering and science team developed methods to estimate the range of potential atmospheric states at the time of arrival and to quantitatively assess the spacecraft’s performance and risk given its particular sensitivities to atmospheric conditions. Numerical models are used to calculate the atmospheric parameters, with observations used to define model cases, tune model parameters, and validate results. This joint program has resulted in a spacecraft capable of accessing, with minimal risk, the four finalist sites chosen for their scientific merit. The capability to operate the landed rover over the latitude range of candidate landing sites, and for all seasons, was verified against an analysis of surface environmental conditions described here. These results, from orbital and model data sets, also drive engineering simulations of the rover’s thermal state that are used to plan surface operations.

Keywords

Mars Mars’ atmosphere Mars’ surface Spacecraft 

Abbreviations

AGL

Above Ground Level

EDL

Entry, Descent, and Landing

GFDL

Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton University

IR

Infrared

JPL

Jet Propulsion Laboratory

MARCI

Mars Color Imager

Mars-GRAM

Mars Global Reference Atmospheric Model

MCS

Mars Climate Sounder

MEP

Mars Exploration Program

MER

Mars Exploration Rover

MGCM

Mars General Circulation Model

MGS

Mars Global Surveyor

MOC

Mars Orbiter Camera

MOLA

Mars Orbiter Laser Altimeter

MMM5

Mars Mesoscale Model 5

MPF

Mars Pathfinder

MRAMS

Mars Regional Atmospheric Modeling System

MRO

Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter

MSL

Mars Science Laboratory

MY

Mars Year

NASA

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

NMSU

New Mexico State University

ODY

Mars Odyssey

RS

Radio Science

TES

Thermal Emission Spectrometer

THEMIS

Thermal Emission Imaging System

UKMGCM

United Kingdom MGCM

UTC

Coordinated Universal Time

VL

Viking Lander

Notes

Acknowledgements

Adam Steltzner, Steve Sell, Richard Powell, David Way, and Jody Davis were additional key contributors to the design and development of the MSL EDL system. Rich Zurek provided a watchful eye and helped secure a Mars Climate Sounder data campaign one Mars year before arrival. Charles Budney and Tommy Thompson administered the MEP Critical Data Products program that greatly enhanced the characterization efforts. Leila Lorenzoni helped lead the initial atmospheric safety assessment at JPL. Fred Calef III helped with GIS analyses of landing site surface temperatures. R. John Wilson and Mark Richardson contributed to the assembly of the JPL 1-D model. This research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ashwin R. Vasavada
    • 1
  • Allen Chen
    • 1
  • Jeffrey R. Barnes
    • 2
  • P. Daniel Burkhart
    • 1
  • Bruce A. Cantor
    • 3
  • Alicia M. Dwyer-Cianciolo
    • 4
  • Robin L. Fergason
    • 5
  • David P. Hinson
    • 6
  • Hilary L. Justh
    • 7
  • David M. Kass
    • 1
  • Stephen R. Lewis
    • 8
  • Michael A. Mischna
    • 1
  • James R. Murphy
    • 9
  • Scot C. R. Rafkin
    • 10
  • Daniel Tyler
    • 2
  • Paul G. Withers
    • 11
  1. 1.Jet Propulsion LaboratoryCalifornia Institute of TechnologyPasadenaUSA
  2. 2.Oregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA
  3. 3.Malin Space Science SystemsSan DiegoUSA
  4. 4.NASA Langley Research CenterHamptonUSA
  5. 5.United States Geological SurveyFlagstaffUSA
  6. 6.SETI InstituteMountain ViewUSA
  7. 7.NASA Marshall Space Flight CenterHuntsvilleUSA
  8. 8.The Open UniversityMilton KeynesUK
  9. 9.New Mexico State UniversityLas CrucesUSA
  10. 10.Southwest Research InstituteBoulderUSA
  11. 11.Boston UniversityBostonUSA

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