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.
I didn't want to turn it into a political hot potato, but on a related note, it seems that NASA and the space program in general is enjoying a big resurgence thanks to this successful landing. I read some really uplifting accounts of the years of work and then there's "Mohawk guy," the real-life Bobak Ferdowski, among those at the helm of mission control for the Curiosity landing and the new breed of NASA engineer who's quite a bit different than the suits of the past. Ferdowski is now an Internet darling and is widely being credited with helping make space exploration and STEM education "cool."
FYI: Statement by the President on Curiosity Landing on Mars
(Taken from NASA Web site: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/news/obama_statement_curiosity.html)
I thought it was a pretty ringing endorsement of the work that NASA has accomplished. Just saying....
Tonight, on the planet Mars, the United States of America made history.
The successful landing of Curiosity – the most sophisticated roving laboratory ever to land on another planet – marks an unprecedented feat of technology that will stand as a point of national pride far into the future. It proves that even the longest of odds are no match for our unique blend of ingenuity and determination.
Tonight's success, delivered by NASA, parallels our major steps forward towards a vision for a new partnership with American companies to send American astronauts into space on American spacecraft. That partnership will save taxpayer dollars while allowing NASA to do what it has always done best – push the very boundaries of human knowledge. And tonight's success reminds us that our preeminence – not just in space, but here on Earth – depends on continuing to invest wisely in the innovation, technology, and basic research that has always made our economy the envy of the world.
I congratulate and thank all the men and women of NASA who made this remarkable accomplishment a reality – and I eagerly await what Curiosity has yet to discover.
YES!! The design, the model, the testing, and the actual hardware appear to be validated. Great work from a team of great minds. I am really impressed that a scheme as complex as this one worked so well. There were quite a few places where being foo just a bit would cause a failure, but it seems that everything worked as planned.
Now they have something more to brag about. Right On.
@Dave: I know. The model was valid and the mission a success so far. Apparently, from reports I've read, there was lots of nail biting during that seven-minute silence, but the rover's somewhat outlandish design proved to be what was required for such extreme circumstances.
J-Allen, I agree completely and you are correct in that my origional statement was definitely not worded to indicate the basic issues we have as a country. I should have done better up front. I worry that, as a country, we have lost interest in those STEM courses that you and I "grew up on". I was absolutely amazed at the level of competence relative to our space program in those early years. Now, we seem to be comfortable in letting others take the lead. I think it all goes back to the level of prepardness at the secondary level. Over the years I have done work with several universities and have gotten to know professors overseeing projects. They indicate to me that the number of remedial courses necessary for in-coming freshmen have increased significantly due to necessary. More and more freshmen simply can't do the work at the university level. Your viewpoint is definitely a valid one. Many thanks..Bob J.
For industrial control applications, or even a simple assembly line, that machine can go almost 24/7 without a break. But what happens when the task is a little more complex? That’s where the “smart” machine would come in. The smart machine is one that has some simple (or complex in some cases) processing capability to be able to adapt to changing conditions. Such machines are suited for a host of applications, including automotive, aerospace, defense, medical, computers and electronics, telecommunications, consumer goods, and so on. This radio show will show what’s possible with smart machines, and what tradeoffs need to be made to implement such a solution.