A report proposes the use of cold hibernated elastic memory (CHEM) foam structures to cushion impacts of small (1 to 50 kg) exploratory spacecraft on remote planets. Airbags, which are used on larger (800 to 1,000 kg) spacecraft have been found to (1) be too complex for smaller spacecraft; (2) provide insufficient thermal insulation between spacecraft and ground; (3) bounce on impact, thereby making it difficult to land spacecraft in precisely designated positions; and (4) be too unstable to serve as platforms for scientific observations. A CHEM foam pad according to the proposal would have a glass-transition temperature (Tg) well above ambient temperature. It would be compacted, at a temperature above Tg, to about a tenth or less of its original volume, then cooled below Tg, then installed on a spacecraft without compacting restraints. Upon entry of the spacecraft into a planetary atmosphere, the temperature would rise above Tg, causing the pad to expand to its original volume and shape. As the spacecraft decelerated and cooled, the temperature would fall below Tg, rigidifying the foam structure. The structure would absorb kinetic energy during ground impact by inelastic crushing, thus protecting the payload from damaging shocks. Thereafter, this pad would serve as a mechanically stable, thermally insulating platform for the landed spacecraft.

This work was done by Witold Sokolowski and Marc Adams of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To obtain a copy of the report, "Novel Precision Soft Lander (PSL)," access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.techbriefs.com/tsp under the Mechanics category. NPO-30435.