On Mars, there is a unique type of “tumbleweed” rolling across the Martian plains.
These weeds aren’t plants: they’re pieces of debris from the entry, descent and landing (EDL) hardware of NASA’s Perseverance rover. Percy has been coming across many of these wrecks, photographing them for engineers to study.
During his landing on February 18, 2021, a series of hardware items slowed the spacecraft from 12,500 mph (20,000 km/h) when it first entered the Martian atmosphere to essentially zero miles per hour when it was gently docked to the surface by a sky crane. And all this happened in just seven minutes.
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After their tasks were completed, the EDL hardware such as the parachute, rear shell, heat shield, and cellular crane were ejected from the Perseverance rover, crashing on Mars at a distance away from the rover so as not to damage the the
Over the past year and a half, the Perseverance team has detected and cataloged around half a dozen items suspected of being EDL remains. The first piece was discovered on April 16, 2022, when an unusually bright object was spotted in one of Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z panoramic photos. “The material was given a descriptive name: ‘shiny material.’ No one knew what it was at the time, but perhaps the rover would get a closer look as it ascended the delta in the coming weeks,” NASA wrote in a blog entry (opens in a new tab).
A few months later, Perseverance arrived at that place in the delta, called Hogwallow Flats. On June 12, 2022, he photographed the mysterious object, suspected to be a piece of sky crane multilayer insulation (MLI), made of Perforated Aluminized Kapton (PAK) or Mylar, waving in the wind like a flag . . In the same region, the rover also captured a snapshot of a fast-moving knotted ball of “string-like material.” That could be Dacron, a mesh used in thermal blankets, according to the operations team.
Interestingly, Hogwallow Flats is more than 1.25 miles (two kilometers) from the Perseverance EDL hardware crash sites. “Hogwallow Flats appears to be a natural collection point for wind-borne EDL debris,” notes NASA.
Perseverance’s helicopter companion Wit he has personally approached some of the remnants of the EDL. On April 19, 2022, Ingenuity flew over the crash site of Perseverance’s rear shell and parachute. taking high-resolution images of the waste.
Such deliberately discarded debris fields are not uncommon on Mars, as landings on the Red Planet tend to be somewhat violent events. Both the opportunity i curiosity The rovers have also photographed what is suspected to be their own EDL debris.
For now, landing spacecraft safely on Mars is the number one priority, but as we continue to plant rovers on the planet, researchers will have to consider the effects of this space junk. “Engineers designing EDL hardware for future missions will need to consider the impact (literally) of their designs on both Mars and mission requirements,” NASA said.
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