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04.13.2010

Helicopter Helps Test Radar for 2012 Mars Landing

Radar Testing for Mars Science Labotatory

This spring, engineers are testing a radar system that will serve during the next landing on Mars.

Recent tests included some near Lancaster, Calif., against a backdrop of blooming California poppy fields. In those tests, a helicopter carried an engineering test model of the landing radar for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory on prescribed descent paths. The descents at different angles and from different heights simulated paths associated with specific candidate sites for the mission.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for NASA, is in its assembly and testing phase, in advance of a launch in autumn 2011 and delivery of a rover named Curiosity to Mars in summer 2012.

During the final stage of the spacecraft's arrival at Mars in 2012, a rocket-powered descent stage will lower the rover on a tether directly to the ground. This rover is too big for the airbag-cushioned landing method used by NASA's Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 and Mars Exploration Rover landings in 2004.

At Mars, a radar on the descent stage will track the spacecraft’s decreasing distance from the surface. Additional helicopter-flown testing of the mission's radar system will include checks of whether the suspended rover might confuse the radar about the speed of descent toward the ground.

Wolfe Air Aviation, of Pasadena, Calif., is providing the helicopter and flight services for the testing by a team of JPL engineers. The engineering test radar is affixed to a gimbal mounting at the front of the helicopter, which is more often used for aerial photography.

Radar Testing for Mars Science LabotatoryFull Size Image
Radar Testing for Mars Science Labotatory

April 2010 testing for a radar that will serve during the next landing on Mars used prescribed descent paths flown by a helicopter carrying an engineering test model of the landing radar for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.

The descents at different angles and from different heights simulated paths associated with specific candidate landing sites for the mission. The Mars Science Laboratory mission, managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, is in assembly and testing for launch in autumn 2011 and delivering a rover named Curiosity to Mars in summer 2012.

Wolfe Air Aviation, of Pasadena, Calif., provided the helicopter and flight services for the testing by a team of JPL engineers in flights near Lancaster, Calif., and other locations. This image from April 9, 2010, shows the test radar affixed to a gimbal mounting at the front of the helicopter, which is more often used for aerial photography.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Testing of Mars Landing Radar near Lancaster, Calif.Full Size Image
Testing of Mars Landing Radar near Lancaster, Calif.

This image shows April 9, 2010, testing for a radar that will serve during the next landing on Mars. This day's work used prescribed descent paths flown by a helicopter carrying an engineering test model of the landing radar for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory.

The descents during that day of the multi-week testing program were flown near Lancaster, Calif., over a patch of desert with abundant California poppies.

Wolfe Air Aviation, of Pasadena, Calif., provided the helicopter and flight services for the testing by a team of engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission, managed by JPL for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, is in assembly and testing for launch in autumn 2011 and delivering a rover named Curiosity to Mars in summer 2012.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Preparation for Testing of Mars Landing RadarFull Size Image
Preparation for Testing of Mars Landing Radar

This image shows March 25, 2010, preparations for testing for a radar that will serve during the next landing on Mars. This day's work evaluated a setup for suspending a rover mock-up beneath a helicopter at Hawthorne Municipal Airport, Hawthorne, Calif.

During the final stage of descent of the NASA Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity, to the surface of Mars in 2012, a rocket-powered descent stage will lower the rover on a tether directly to the ground. This rover is too big for the airbag-cushioned landing method used by the Mars Pathfinder mission in 1997 and Mars Exploration Rover landings in 2004.

At Mars, a radar on the descent stage will track the decreasing distance to the surface during descent. Helicopter-flown testing of the radar system for the mission includes checking whether the suspended rover might confuse the radar about the speed of descent toward the ground. This image shows mechanical testing of the system for suspending a rover mock-up for the later radar test, before the engineering test model of the landing radar was mounted onto the helicopter.

Wolfe Air Aviation, of Pasadena, Calif., provided the helicopter and flight services for the testing by a team of engineers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena.

The Mars Science Laboratory mission, managed by JPL for the NASA Science Mission Directorate, Washington, is in assembly and testing for launch in autumn 2011 and delivering the rover Curiosity to Mars in summer 2012.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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