PI 001-14n 2014-01-02

Starting help for the Mars mission

Copyright image: Courtesy of Foremost Industries

NASA is currently working on a high-tech parachute so that delicate measurement instruments can land gently on Mars. These “low density supersonic decelerators” have to be tested and so NASA contracted Foremost Industries, in Calgary, Canada, to engineer and build an unmanned launch tower. For the purposes of the test, a balloon will first lift the supersonic decelerator and a rocket to a height of more than 35 kilometers. The rocket will then boost the decelerator to almost 55 kilometers in altitude. Only at this distance can NASA check the parachute’s function on – or near – the earth.

Bosch Rexroth supplied both the hydraulic and the motion control systems needed to build the launch tower and move the jib. This will hold the balloon, the rocket, and the decelerator. The greatest challenge was engineering the jib to move at a wide range of variable speeds. It has to move slowly to bring the balloon into correct alignment with the wind, but then swings quickly out of the way when the balloon is released. The first launch is scheduled for June 2014, when the supersonic decelerator is to take off from Hawaii.


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