The Mars Science Laboratory Touchdown Test Facility

In the Touchdown Test Program for the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, a facility was developed to use a full-scale rover vehicle and an overhead winch system to replicate the Skycrane landing event. A driving requirement for the testing facility was the need to support a load of 5,000 lb (2,268 kg) at a minimum height of 13 m. Few facilities at JPL qualify with enough height, leaving the Building 280 Static Test Tower as the logical choice. However, this facility is popular, so an additional requirement was that the MSL test facility be temporary, and be able to be disassembled in a matter of a week or two, be stored for a period of time, and then be reassembled again quickly for V&V (verification and validation) testing.

The Building 280 Test Tower is a 50-ft-tall (15-m) steel tower structure measuring approximately 15 by 15 ft (4 by 4 m). Overhead pulleys were mounted on a new cantilevered frame so that testing could be conducted on the south face of the tower. Landing surfaces consisted of flat and sloped granular media, and rigid, planar surfaces. Various combinations of rocks and slopes were studied. Information gathered in these tests was vital for validating the rover analytical model, validating design and system behavior assumptions, and for exploring events and phenomena that are either very difficult or too costly to model in a credible way.

This work was done by Christopher White; John Frankovich; Phillip Yates; George H. Wells, Jr.; and Robert Losey of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. NPO-45847

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