Feeds

NASA's nuclear Mars tank is go

Podule for hover-rocket 'sky crane' lander shipped

Build a business case: developing custom apps

NASA's plans to land a large nuclear-powered robotic tank on Mars are back on track, with the first section of its "sky crane" hovering lander module delivered from the makers and funding problems ironed out.

US aerospace titan Lockheed Martin announced yesterday that they had shipped the "backshell" for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, the top half of the tin in which the rover will fly through space.

As the MSL descends from deep space into the thin atmosphere of Mars, the two-part aeroshell module will steer itself down by ejecting ballast to shift its centre of gravity. The backshell is mounted on a special-for-Mars ablative heat shield base made of cork and silicone, much of which will burn away from atmospheric friction as the spacecraft plunges down.

As the aeroshell nears the surface, it will slow down using a large parachute, then the heat shield base will drop away and the "sky crane" hovering rocket unit will fall out with the rover slung beneath it. The skycrane will descend on retro-rockets, and in the final stages will lower the rover down on a cable to set down on its wheels ready to go. This, apparently, will mean that rover will wind up much closer to the target landing spot - NASA could only predict where the present ones would set down to within a hundred miles or so. The skycrane will then fly away to crash safely somewhere well away from the rover.

Here's a rather groovy vid, courtesy of NASA, for those with Flash and YouTube privileges:

Lockheed's "backshell" - the bit delivered yesterday, the largest the company has ever made - is the top of the round space tin that the whole package arrives in.

Once down, the MSL will follow NASA's Mars strategy and "follow the water" in the hope of finding signs of a habitable environment - or even life - in the Red Planet's past. Nuclear powered, the big-car sized vehicle won't suffer the serious constraints imposed by using solar power on Mars, further from the Sun than Earth. It will be able to tool about drilling into rocks (or "vapourising" them with its laser) for a full Martian year (nearly two Earth ones) before its plutonium battery pack runs out of puff.

The MSL is a way over budget, seemingly, with $1.5bn already spent. There has been talk recently of cancelling it. However, it now seems clear that the programme will proceed. There's more on MSL from NASA here. ®

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
Asteroid's SHOCK DINO MURDER SPREE just bad luck - boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.