Wednesday, June 13, 2007

ESA air bags demonstrates less bounce

In an important step toward a European mission to Mars, scientists have successfully tested a new kind of air bag landing system that they believe could bring the proposed ExoMars mission to a much speedier and safer stop than previous designs. The American Spirit and Opportunity rovers presently on Mars used airbag technology, but the method employed required the landers survive up to 25 bounces and travel some 200 metres before coming to a standstill. The ESA design, known as a vented, or dead-beat system, uses sensors to deflate the squashable bags on touchdown, reducing the bounce factor and meaning that the payload can be delivered right side up. There is still a lot of testing to be done, but if successful, the bags will also mean a significant weight saving, leaving more room for the science payload. The BBC website has an extensive story.