Summary: Fan-powered descents and nimble landing legs are just two ideas for touching down safely
Original author and publication date: Lisa Grossman – December 23, 2020
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: Day after day we humans are better prepared to explore other planets and moons.
From the article:
The best way to know a world is to touch it. Scientists have observed the planets and moons in our solar system for centuries, and have flown spacecraft past the orbs for decades. But to really understand these worlds, researchers need to get their hands dirty — or at least a spacecraft’s landing pads.
Since the dawn of the space age, Mars and the moon have gotten almost all the lander love. Only a handful of spacecraft have landed on Venus, our other nearest neighbor world, and none have touched down on Europa, an icy moon of Jupiter thought to be one of the best places in the solar system to look for present-day life (SN: 5/2/14).
Researchers are working to change that. In several talks at the virtual American Geophysical Union meeting that ran from December 1 to December 17, planetary scientists and engineers discussed new tricks that hypothetical future spacecraft may need to land on unfamiliar terrain on Venus and Europa. The missions are still in a design phase and are not on NASA’s launch schedule, but scientists want to be prepared.
Navigating a Venusian gauntlet
Venus is a notoriously difficult world to visit (SN: 2/13/18). Its searing temperatures and crushing atmospheric pressure have destroyed every spacecraft lucky enough to reach the surface within about two hours of arrival. The last landing was over 30 years ago, despite increasing confidence among planetary scientists that Venus’ surface was once habitable (SN: 8/26/16). That possibility of past, and perhaps current, life on Venus is one reason scientists are anxious to get back (SN: 10/28/20).
In one of the proposed plans discussed at the AGU meeting, scientists have ridged, folded mountainous terrain on Venus called tessera in their sights.
“Safely landing in tessera terrain is absolutely necessary to satisfy our science objectives,” said planetary scientist Joshua Knicely of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in a talk recorded for the meeting. “We have to do it.”