Members of the 452nd Air Mobility Wing recently lent a helping hand to the National Aeronautical Space Administration’s (NASA) Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), by loading a C-17 Globemaster III with equipment to be transported to Hawaii in support of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program.
The key piece of equipment being transported was a Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) which, according to a NASA fact sheet, uses inflatable structures and advanced parachutes that operate at supersonic speeds to more efficiently slow down a spacecraft navigating through planetary atmosphere prior to landing. In addition to allowing for an increase in landed payload masses, these new decelerators will allow for higher-altitude landings as well as access to a larger portion of a planet’s surface, and will enable improved targeting of safe landing sites.
Landing heavy equipment or vehicles on Mars is unlike landing them on Earth, which has a dense atmosphere, or on the moon, which has no atmosphere. Mars’ atmosphere is somewhere in-between the two, too much atmosphere to allow rockets alone to land vehicles, as is done on the moon, yet too little atmosphere to land them with parachutes and friction, as is done on Earth. Therefore, in order to conduct advanced exploration missions in the future and safely land heavier spacecraft on Mars, NASA must advance the technology of decelerating large payloads at high speed in thin atmospheres to a new level of performance.
The LDSD project needs to conduct full-scale tests in earth’s stratosphere before possibly sending the technologies to space for use in a Mars atmospheric entry, descent and landing. The stratospheric tests will be conducted at the Pacific Missile Range Facility Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii, throughout the next two years, and according to JPL Logistics Manager, Bartel Drake, the professionalism of the March Field team is one of the many reasons NASA entrusts their transportation needs to the installation.
“This is the 3rd time I have been a part of a move involving March and JPL and each time the personnel here have provided outstanding service,” Drake said. “The folks here understand the dynamics of what JPL does and they understand how to properly handle this sensitive equipment.”
According to their website, JPL is a division of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and is the leading U.S. center for the robotic exploration of the solar system. Working together, Caltech’s and JPL’s innovative researchers and technicians are shedding new light on how our solar system works and are building knowledge not only of distant planetary environments, but of Earth and its atmosphere as well.
With the LDSD project in full swing, the close proximity of March Field to the JPL headquarters in Pasadena, California and the extensive working knowledge of March personnel, Drake’s opinion from a logistical standpoint is that the relationship between JPL and March will continue to grow.
“These projects are getting larger in terms of the volume of materials we need to move and the C-17 is the perfect platform to transport these systems,” said Drake. “The knowledge of everyone involved here, from the aircrew, to security, to the aerial porters and everyone else is unbelievable. They understand the mission requirements and continue to strengthen the bond between JPL and March by providing top-notched service and making the process easy.”
Flight testing of the LDSD is planned to continue through 2015. For additional information about the LDSD project visit www.nasa.gov. For more information on NASA’s JPL visit www.jpl.nasa.gov.
Information used in this article was taken from www.nasa.gov.