Jorge Vago: “It’s hard to land on Mars as the Moon, for the atmosphere”

jorge vago - space scientist

Jorge Vago, Chief Scientist of the ExoMars mission.

The decrease in the soil of Mars, the NASA robot Curiosity try next Monday, is a nightmare for the engineers, of pure complex. “It is much harder to land on Mars on the Moon, because the planet has an atmosphere dense enough to be taken into account, while in the Moon,” said Jorge Vago. It is the chief scientist of the ExoMars mission prepared by the European Space Agency (ESA) to send a jeep to Mars. In planetary exploration, he says, is less complicated colcoar a satellite in orbit another celestial body, put a team on its surface is much more difficult, and make this move even more. Since the technology center of ESA in the Netherlands (ESTEC), Vago explains (via conference call) the challenges of space exploration with artifacts such as Curiosity, whose mission involves several experts who also work on ExoMars.

Question: In the exploration of Mars using orbiting satellites and surface vehicles. Do we need both perspectives?

Answer: They are different. Orbiting satellites for studying the entire planet but with low resolution, whereas if you want to see details such as the geological origin of a particular region or if there is life or not, need to go to ground. But orbiters and rovers are complementary.

Q. Are there times when you bring samples of Mars to Earth?

Robot on Mars

Illustration of the vehicle of the future ExoMars mission, the European Space Agency (ESA). / ESA

A. To find out if there is life …. If we find evidence by analysis there would surely be controversial, so I think I will bring samples to any relevant analyzes here. But for such a mission will have to wait still, will require a significant investment by not only U.S. but also Europe and Russia.

Q. Why is it so difficult descent maneuver to be performed by the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL), with the Curiosity inside, next Monday?

R. land on the Martian soil is more difficult than on the moon because the planet has an atmosphere dense enough (though less than the Earth) to have to take it into account. On the moon you get to the ground directly with thrusters. The MSL will enter the Martian atmosphere at a speed of nearly 30,000 kilometers per hour and requires, first, a heat shield to protect it from heat generated by friction.When you are braking up to 1,500 kilometers per hour, you have to deploy the parachute, but when it breaks down will still go to 300 kilometers per hour and if it hits the ground at that speed the vehicle … this fried. So after the parachute will use thrusters to finish a curb and eight feet above the ground, crane kicks in space, like a helicopter to pick up the Curiosity to the ground.

Q. Why not use thrusters to the end?

A. To prevent the retro supersonic jets lift a huge cloud of dust on the floor, which is something that the engineers of Curiosity want to avoid at all costs.

P. The above terrain of Mars hit the ground wrapped in airbags and bouncing to a stop.

A. Yes, but the Curiosity is much more massive. It weighs nearly a ton (about 300 kilos on Mars, which has one third of Earth’s gravity). When it came to the mission, he thought of the airbag, but was so massive that they would have to be very thick to keep from bursting to throw on the ground and weigh too much. Then they developed this thing thinking crazy crane also in the future, because it is a system that allows us to deposit large masses in the soil of Mars (as will be needed for a mission to return samples to Earth), while the system of the airbag has already peaked.

Q. What system planned for the European ExoMars?

A. For the first phase, a descent capsule on the surface of Mars with a fixed station, which could launch in 2016, we would use heat shield, parachute and then thrusters (with radar) and finally the retro apagarín one meter from the floor and the unit would fall on a sponge metal deform and cushion the blow. For the ATV later we are now working with the Russians and think of a module that reaches the ground with legs (such as NASA’s Viking setenA lso years) and then he would leave the vehicle.

Q. How on earth can try all these teams then have to operate on another planet?

A. It is impossible to test the whole system because they are different planets, but rehearse in parts, simulating certain aspects of the helicopter down, for example. You can make some test parachutes in the air balloons land a few dozen miles high, where the density is similar to that of Mars.

Q. What are the characteristics that have the instruments used in these space missions?

R. Small and lightweight. It’s like a suitcase to go on vacation. The question is how to put everything in little space and weighs little. The Curiosity instruments are large, some up to 30 kilos, when the total previous rover science teams was 13 kilos. For ExoMars we will miniaturize.

Q. When the ESA sent a rover like these from NASA to Mars?

A. With ExoMars are waiting for the decision taken at the next conference of ministers of member countries of the ESA because the mission is approved, but lack of funding. We have 850 million euros and the total cost amounts to 1,200 million.

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