Feeds

NASA's nuclear Mars tank is go

Podule for hover-rocket 'sky crane' lander shipped

The essential guide to IT transformation

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. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
Boffins attempt to prove the UNIVERSE IS JUST A HOLOGRAM
Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
China building SUPERSONIC SUBMARINE that travels in a BUBBLE
Shanghai to San Fran in two hours would be a trick, though
Our LOHAN spaceplane ballocket Kickstarter climbs through £8000
Through 25 per cent but more is needed: Get your UNIQUE rewards!
LOHAN Kickstarter push breaks TWELVE THOUSAND POUNDS
That's right, folks, you've stumped up OVER 9000 beer tokens - and counting
SpaceX prototype rocket EXPLODES over Texas. 'Tricky' biz, says Elon Musk
No injuries or near injuries. Flight stayed in designated area
Galileo, Galileo! Galileo, Galileo! Galileo fit to go. Magnifico
I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me. But at least I can find my way with ESA GPS by 2017
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
prev story

Whitepapers

Best practices for enterprise data
Discussing how technology providers have innovated in order to solve new challenges, creating a new framework for enterprise data.
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.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?