Sunday, June 26, 2011

NASA, NASA News, Test of Robotic Lander, Launch Autumn 2011

The day is coming when NASA can send robotic landers to airless planets and let them land, take off and roam around freely.  

NASA on track for a launch in the Autumn 2011

Here’s a video of NASA's successful attempt at setting a robotic lander free to fly on its own. The space agency’s robotic lander mission team is testing these small robotic space vehicles to land on the moon, asteroids and planets on their own, without direct input from humans. (con't below videos)

Curiosity will launch this fall and spend the next eight months traveling to Mars. It will enter the Martian atmosphere careening at 13,000 miles per hour, where its Apollo-esque heat shield will protect it from burning up. A parachute slows it down a bit before the rocket-powered descent stage. Then the sky crane lowers the rover, something that has never been done before .... just watch the super-realistic animation below.

That’s important because on many “airless bodies,” engineers can’t rely on parachutes or airbags to bring an unmanned robotic vehicle in for a safe landing as they do with Mars missions. And because the spacecraft would be so far away from Earth, it would take too long for control signals to reach the vehicle and feed back its results to Earth.
In the ’60s, NASA designed the moon lander to perform a similar function, but that lunar module was much larger than this, and, of course, it had two human beings on board to control its descent. In this first test, the engineers instructed the robotic lander to fly up to 7 feet high for 27 seconds and then land, and then it accomplished that autonomously. Check out the infrared view where you can see the heat plumes of the lander’s engines.
NASA’s looking forward to the day it can send these spacecraft to airless bodies and let them roam around the surface, lifting off and landing multiple times as they explore their scientific objectives. Next up is a test where the lander ascends to 100 feet, flying for 60 seconds. It’s a start. NASA didn’t say when these tiny spacecraft would be ready for flight, but when they are, they’ll have a major advantage over manned missions: They don’t need to return to Earth.

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