For the landing to succeed, hundreds of events have to go right -- many with split-second timing and all controlled by the spacecraft with no human intervention. Enter the Enter Descent and Landing (EDL) engineering team, whose mission was to design a flight plan and a craft that can go from 13,200mph to 0mph in seven minutes to land on Mars' surface. The critical challenges the team addressed included designing a heat shield that can resist temperatures of up to 1,600F and a supersonic parachute (the largest and strongest ever produced, according to JPL engineers) that can withstand 65,000 pounds of force and slow the craft down to 200mph.
Since even that speed can't accommodate a landing, the team also designed a rocket system that will help slow the craft even further, along with a diverter mechanism that will draw the craft away from the parachute and help reduce horizontal and vertical velocity. Operating rockets too close to the ground could cause giant dust storms that could damage the Curiosity's instrumentation and mechanics. Therefore, the team also designed a sky crane that will lower the rover on a 21-foot tether, deposit it gently on wheels to the surface, and cut the bridle so the rest of the craft can fly away and crash safely out of the rover's reach.
"There's an incredibly complicated, orchestrated set of maneuvers to get this thing on the ground, and it will happen all blind," Dave Taylor, vice president of Siemens PLM Software, told us. "By the time [mission control] finds out whether the rover got through the outer atmosphere of Mars, it will have either crashed or successfully landed."
The JPL standardized on Siemens PLM Software tools several years ago, so Teamcenter PLM served as the data management and design collaboration platform via the JT Open format. Overall product design was done in NX CAD, and NX CAE helped the team understand stresses and loads on all mechanical components, perform tolerance analysis, and make sure components fit together optimally.