Samples Returned From Mars Will be Protected by a Micrometeorite Shield

By | 26/10/2022

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  1. Samples Returned From Mars Will be Protected by a Micrometeorite Shield

    by Matt Williams

    In a few years, NASA and the ESA will conduct the long-awaited Mars Sample Return (MSR) mission. This mission volition consist of a lander that volition pick up the samples, an rising vehicle that will ship them to orbit, an orbiter that will return them to Earth, and an entry vehicle that volition send them to the surface. This volition be the showtime time samples obtained straight from Mars volition exist returned to World for analysis. The research this will enable is expected to yield new insights into the history of Mars and how it evolved to get what nosotros see today.

    Returning these samples safely to Globe requires that protective measures be implemented at every stride, including transfer, rising, transit, and re-entry. This is particularly truthful when information technology comes to the Earth Entry System (EES), the disk-shaped vehicle that volition re-enter Globe’due south temper at the end of the mission. In improver to a heat shield, engineers at NASA’s White Sands Test Facility (WSTF) near Las Cruces, New Mexico, are decorated testing shielding that will protect the vehicle from micrometeorites and infinite debris during transit back to Earth and during re-entry.

    According to the ESA’southward Infinite Debris Function (SDO), there are about 32,320 debris objects in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) that are regularly tracked by Space Surveillance Networks (SSNs). These include pieces of defunct satellites, spent stages, and spacecraft that can reach velocities of up to 25,265 km/h (15,700 mph). At these speeds, fifty-fifty the tiniest bits of droppings tin pose a major standoff take a chance to robotic and crewed missions. Merely fifty-fifty these pale in comparing to micrometeorites, which can travel up to 85,000 meters per second (180,000 km/h; 112,000 mph).

    Currently, a squad of NASA engineers is testing a shield system for the EES at the Remote Hypervelocity Test Laboratory (RHTL), which has supported every human spaceflight program from the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station (ISS) to the Artemis Programme. The team was led by Bruno Sarli, an aerospace engineer who has worked with NASA’southward Global Trajectory Optimization Lab and the Planetary Defense Research Group since 2016.

    To simulate impacts, the lab employs a series of two-phase lite gas guns to accelerate objects to the point where they have the same bear upon velocity as micrometeorites and orbital debris. The first stage uses gunpowder every bit a propellant, while the second stage pushes highly compressed hydrogen gas into a smaller tube to increase pressure inside the gun. The RHTL is equipped with four guns in total, including two 0.17-quotient (0.177-inch bore diameter), a 0.50-caliber (0.50-inch bore bore), and a 1-inch bore gun.

    For the sake of their experiment, the team used the lab’s mid-sized 2-stage calorie-free gas gun that shoots pellets in the .50 caliber range at speeds of over viii km/s (28,800 km/h; 17895.5 mph). The experiment took three days to ready upwards but only one second to conduct (encounter the video of the team’s preparations below). The gun’s pressure gets so high during tests that it would level the entire building if i of the guns were to explode. For this reason, Sarli and his colleagues monitored the experiment from the safety of a bunker nearby.

    Since micrometeorites travel six to seven times every bit fast in space, the team relies on computer models to simulate the actual velocities of micrometeorites. Meanwhile, the slower rate tests the computer model’s ability to simulate impacts on their shield and allows the squad to study how the material reacts to the kinetic energy. As nosotros get closer to the launch date of the Mars Sample Return mission (currently scheduled for 2028), the team volition continue to run bear on experiments and gather information on their shield design.

    Other robotic elements in the MSR mission include the NASA/ESA-provided Sample Retrieval Lander, NASA’s Sample Recovery Helicopters (similar to
    Ingenuity), Mars Ascent Vehicle, Capture, Containment, and Return System (CCRS), and the ESA’s World Return Orbiter. The EES is beingness developed jointly by NASA’due south Langley and Ames Research Centers, with impact testing provided through the NASA Goddard Infinite Flight Center (which is also developing the CCRS element).

    With multiple spacecraft, launchers, and regime agencies involved, the MSR campaign is 1 of the virtually ambitious endeavors in spaceflight history, involving multiple spacecraft, multiple launches, and multiple government agencies. If all goes according to programme, the MSR mission will return Martian rock and sediment samples to Globe by 2033. Bringing these samples to World will allow scientists to study them using instruments that are too large and heavy to transport to Mars, enabling greater scientific returns than previous robotic missions.

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