Defense

August 6, 2012

Air Force has role in Mars Rover success

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by Philip Lorenz III
Arnold AFB, Tenn.

An Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle heat shield material sample model undergoes preproduction aerothermal testing in Arnold Engineering Development Center’s H2 test facility as part of a facility validation and calibration run. More testing is slated to occur in December.

As news broke of NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory “Curiosity” rover’s successful landing on the “Red Planet” Aug. 6, Arnold Engineering Development Complex’s (AEDC) Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 Director Dan Marren was watching the live TV broadcast of the event.

“Last night, after eight months of high-speed flight, while you slept, NASA successfully landed the rover Curiosity on Mars,” Marren said. “What I find refreshing is that for our part, there is an interesting story.

“Much of the success of the “7 minutes of terror” – that most challenging part NASA refers to from re-entry to touchdown – is directly related to sub-systems AEDC helped develop and validate. A solid heat shield and a proper deceleration parachute were crucial to putting the rover down safely. What is even more rewarding to me is that our capabilities designed many years ago for the original space race and strategic systems were so useful today enabling discovery and the natural curiosity of the human race.”

Aerospace Testing Alliance Instrumentation Technician Doyle Jones performs a continuity check on the instrumentation inside the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle heat shield material candidate model prior to a test run in Arnold Engineering Development Center’s H2 test facility.

“Curiosity” is the most highly advanced, mobile robot with the heaviest overall payload ever sent to another planet to investigate Mars’ ability, both past and present, to sustain microbial life.

AEDC’s role in supporting the MSL program has included evaluating the aerothermal loading of the heat shield at the complex’s Hypervelocity Tunnel 9 facility in Silver Spring, Md., and assessing thermal protection system material candidates for the MSL’s heat shield at the complex’s central location in Tennessee. In addition, NASA and AEDC’s engineers tested the MSL’s full-sized parachute in the world’s largest wind tunnel at National Full-Scale Aerodynamic Complex in California.

In this image, two engineers are dwarfed by NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory’s parachute, which holds more air than a 3,000-square-foot house and is designed to survive loads in excess of 36,000 kilograms (80,000 pounds). The parachute, built by Pioneer Aerospace, South Windsor, Conn., has 80 suspension lines, measures more than 65 feet in length, and opens to a diameter of nearly 55 feet. It is the largest disk-gap-band parachute ever built and is shown here inflated in the test section with only about 12.5 feet of clearance to both the floor and ceiling of the world’s largest wind tunnel at National Full-Scale Aerodynamics Complex. The parachute is attached to a launch arm mounted on a swivel-base that allows the test item to pitch and yaw under simulated conditions of subsonic entry into the Martian atmosphere.

A 1/30-scale model of the aeroshell configuration for the Mars Science Laboratory underwent aerodynamic atmospheric descent testing at AEDC’s Hypervelocity Wind Tunnel 9 Facility.




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