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Published March 2007 | Published
Journal Article Open

Mars Exploration Entry, Descent, and Landing Challenges


The United States has successfully landed five robotic systems on the surface of Mars. These systems all had landed masses below 0.6 metric tons, had landed footprints on the order of hundreds of kilometers, and landed at sites below 1:4 kilometers elevation due the need to perform entry, descent, and landing operations in an environment with sufficient atmospheric density. At present, robotic exploration systems engineers are struggling with the challenges of increasing landed mass capability to 0.8 metric tons while improving landed accuracy to 10 kilometers and landing at a site as high as  2 kilometers elevation for the Mars science laboratory project. Meanwhile, current plans for human exploration of Mars call for the landing of 40–80 metric tons surface elements at scientifically interesting locations within close proximity (tens of meters) of pre-positioned robotic assets. This paper summarizes past successful entry, descent, and landing systems and approaches being developed by the robotic Mars exploration program to increase landed performance (mass, accuracy, and surface elevation). In addition, the entry, descent, and landing sequence for a human exploration system will be reviewed, highlighting the technology and systems advances required.

Additional Information

© 2006 by Robert D. Braun. A portion of the research described in this paper was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The authors are indebted to the following personnel for helpful discussions and insight in the preparation of this material: Mark Adler, Adam Steltzner, Allen Chen, and Robert Mitcheltree of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Juan Cruz and John Dec of the NASA Langley Research Center; Al Witkowski of Pioneer Aerospace; Grant Wells, Amanda Verges, and Jarret Lafleur of the Georgia Institute of Technology; and Clem Tillier of the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory.

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