Glenn Contributes to Mars Exploration Rovers
Spirit and Opportunity, the twin rovers, continue to roll across the surface of Mars unveiling secrets about our mysterious and sometimes mythical neighbor. Both rovers continue to send home dramatic images and data from the red planet.
When they landed on Mars in January 2004, a carefully tested landing system protected the rovers from damage. NASA used Glenn's Space Power Facility at Plum Brook Station in Sandusky to test the system's airbags. Plum Brook engineers and technicians used various types of natural and artificial rocks to simulate the Martian surface. They also cooled the facility and reduced the pressure to imitate the Martian climate. Plum Brook tested the air bag landing system by dropping it onto the rocky surface more than 50 times.
NASA Glenn also has contributed to the Mars Rovers mission by studying solar arrays, and analyzing the performance of solar arrays
in the Martian environment. A solar array performance model developed by researchers at NASA Glenn was used to develop the solar arrays and analyze and predict the performance of the power system on Mars.
Once the rovers landed safely and began their journeys, they still were at risk of short circuits caused by static electricity buildup. But an ingenious device developed at Glenn for the Mars Pathfinder mission uses four wire discharge points that act like miniature lighting rods to keep static electricity buildup within safe limits.
Researcher Geoffrey A. Landis of the NASA Glenn Photovoltaics and Power Technology Branch continues to work with the rover mission operations as a member of the Mars Exploration Rover Science team. As a science team member, he participates in the decisions of where the rover will go and what science observations it will make. He has been actively involved in the study of dust devils on Mars, as well as understanding the climate cycle on Mars, and how the dust is raised into the atmosphere during great "global dust storms." He also works at measuring how well solar cells perform on Mars and how much Martian dust builds up on the solar cells before the rovers begin to lose power. Because the rovers were not designed to operate over the Martian winter, he originated a proposal to compensate for the season's low-sunlight and short days by selecting a path that chooses north-facing slopes to maximize collection of solar energy.
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