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1 Mars Science Laboratory on Sat Sep 11, 2010 7:43 pm

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The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) is a long-range, long-duration, roving mobile laboratory. It is part of NASA抯 Mars Exploration Program. It is the next logical step beyond the twin Spirit and Opportunity rovers and will continue to study the martian geology from the surface of Mars. It is scheduled for launch in December 2009 and to arrive in October 2010.
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The Mars Science Laboratory rover
will have six wheels and cameras mounted on a mast. It will be twice as long and three times as heavy as the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. It will be nearly the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. The rover will be capable of reaching a destination that is 20 to 40 kilometers (12 to 24 miles) long, about the size of a small crater or wide canyon and three to five times smaller than previous landing zones on Mars.

MSL is expected to remain active after landing for one Mars year (687 Earth days - two Earth years). NASA will select a planned landing site on the basis of highly detailed images sent to Earth by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter beginning in 2006, in addition to data from previous mars missions.

The Mars Science Laboratory will operate under its own power, nuclear power source. It will generate electricity to power the science instruments and other systems and will allow the rover to operate at higher and lower latitudes than those that might be traversed by a similarly equipped rover dependent on solar and battery power.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, California, manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project.

The aim of the mission is:

1.
To examine martian rocks and soils in greater detail than ever before in order to determine the geologic processes that formed and modified them.

2. To collect and crush martian rock and soil samples and distribute them to on-board test chambers for chemical analysis. It will carry a suite of scientific instruments to identify organic compounds such as proteins and amino acids and assess Mars as a potential habitat for microbial life, in the past or present.

3. To study the martian atmosphere; and determine the distribution and circulation of water and carbon dioxide, whether frozen, liquid, or gaseous. To identify features such as atmospheric gases that may be associated with biological activity.

Landing

MSL will be delivered by next-generation landers using precision landing systems. Precision landing will be of an order of 5 to 10 kilometers (3 to 6 miles) landing error versus 50 to 60 kilometers (31 to 37 miles) used by earlier landers. The improvement might be possible by utilizing hazard and detection avoidance sensors.

As currently envisioned, in the final minutes before touchdown, the spacecraft would activate its parachute and retro rockets before lowering the rover package to the surface on a tether (similar to the way a skycrane helicopter moves a large object).

History

* In April 2004, NASA made an 'Announcement of Opportunity' for proposals/ideas for science instruments that could be used onboard the Mars Science Laboratory.

* In late 2004 Aerojet test-fired a Viking flight spare rocket engine assembly in order to help design a new engine which will deliver the Mars Science Laboratory rover to the surface of Mars. The rocket engine used in the test was originally built, tested and delivered in 1973 for the Viking program. The engine was put into storage after the successful landing of the Viking 1 and Viking 2 spacecraft on Mars in 1976.
Aerojet
under contract with NASA抯 Jet Propulsion Laboratory, received the engine for five hot fire tests that were conducted to evaluate engine capabilities as well as general health checks. The hot fire tests determined that the key elements and features within the Viking engine are relevant to and meet the requirements of NASA抯 Mars Science Laboratory mission.
Aerojet is building three new 700 pound thrust monopropellant rocket engine assemblies to further evaluate design changes in order to increase mission flexibility and life capability. Testing is planned to continue through 2005 to support technology development for JPL. The most significant feature of the monopropellant engine is its ability to throttle from 15-100 percent thrust with a fixed propellant inlet pressure.

* On December 14, 2004, NASA selected eight proposals to provide instrumentation and associated science investigations for the mobile Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover. The selected proposals will conduct preliminary design studies to focus on how the instruments can be accommodated on the mobile platform, completed and delivered consistent with the mission schedule.

The selected investigations and principal investigators are:

1. Mars Science Laboratory Mast Camera, Michael Malin, Malin Space Science Systems (MSSS), San Diego, California.
Mast Camera will perform multi-spectral, stereo imaging at lengths ranging from kilometers to centimeters, and can acquire compressed high-definition video at 10 frames per second without the use of the rover computer.

2. ChemCam: Laser Induced Remote Sensing for Chemistry and Micro-Imaging, Roger Wiens, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico.
ChemCam will use laser beams that can blast a rock from up to 10 metres away, vaporizing a small amount of the underlying mineral and then collecting the light emitted by the vaporized rock to see what it's made of.


3. MAHLI: MArs HandLens Imager for the Mars Science Laboratory, Kenneth Edgett, MSSS.
MAHLI will image rocks, soil, frost and ice at resolutions 2.4 times better, and with a wider field of view, than the Microscopic Imager on the Mars Exploration Rovers.

4. The Alpha-Particle-X-ray-Spectrometer for Mars Science Laboratory (APXS), Ralf Gellert, Max-Planck-Institute for Chemistry, Mainz, Germany.
APXS will determine elemental abundance of rocks and soil. APXS will be provided by the Canadian Space Agency.

5. CheMin: An X-ray Diffraction/X-ray Fluorescence (XRD/XRF) instrument for definitive mineralogical analysis in the Analytical Laboratory of MSL, David Blake, NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, California.
CheMin, will identify and quantify all minerals in complex natural samples such as basalts, evaporites and soils, one of the principle objectives of Mars Science Laboratory.

6. Radiation Assessment Detector (RAD), Donald Hassler, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colorado.
RAD will characterize the broad spectrum of radiation at the surface of Mars
. The data data will be valuable to better determine how future human crews can cope with radiation doses during their stays on Mars, an essential precursor to human exploration of the planet. RAD will be funded by the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters.

7. Mars Descent Imager, Michael Malin, MSSS.
The Mars Descent Imager will produce high-resolution color-video imagery of the MSL descent and landing phase, providing geological context information, as well as allowing for precise landing-site determination.

8. Sample Analysis at Mars with an integrated suite consisting of a gas chromatograph mass spectrometer, and a tunable laser spectrometer (SAM), Paul Mahaffy, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland.
SAM will perform mineral and atmospheric analyses, detect a wide range of organic compounds and perform stable isotope analyses of organics and noble gases.
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