A report describes Martian landing balls, which are under development for use in delivering scientific payloads to Mars. Martian landing balls are related to other soft-landing devices that resemble beach balls and that have been described in several previous NASA Tech Briefs articles. They are also related to the Zorb (or equivalent) — a commercial recreational device that looks like a large, transparent beach-ball/tire hybrid with a central volume that is open to the atmosphere and that accommodates a human rider. In a Mar-tian landing ball, the central volume contains a rigid cylinder that carries the payload. The cylinder is surrounded (except for small openings) by an approximately spherical airbag. In the intended use, Martian landing balls would be dropped from slowly descending solar-heated balloons. It has been estimated that a Martian landing ball with a mass of 2 kg could deliver a 10-kg payload with a landing acceleration of less than 50× normal Earth gravitation (less than about 490 m/s2). Once on the Martian surface, the airbag could be deflated; alternatively, the airbag could be kept inflated to take advantage of the wind to blow the payload to a desired location.
This work was done by Jack Jones, Andre Yavrouian, and Tim Connors of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To obtain a copy of the report, "Martian Landing Ball," access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.nasatech.com/tsp under the Mechanics category.