The Guidance, Navigation, and Control Challenges of Landing on Mars and Europa


With its thin atmosphere, uncertain wind and terrain, and ever-increasing science requirements, robotic missions to the surface of Mars have presented enormous challenges to the Entry, Descent, and Landing (EDL) and Guidance, Navigation, and Control (GN&C) engineers. Throughout the years, these challenges have been met with a series of landing architectures that spawned different degrees of passive and active control, from the ballistic airbag landers in the Mars Pathfinder and Spirit and Opportunity Rovers, to the guided-entry, SkyCrane-delivered Curiosity. Landing on Europa (the Jovian moon that may have the conditions to harbor life) presents a different set of challenges over a Martian landing. While Europa’s lack of atmosphere relieves the landing engineer from the complexities of heatshields and parachutes and the vagaries of an atmosphere, they now face the enormous challenges of bringing large amounts of fuel and powerful propulsion to do the job the atmosphere does on Mars, while dealing with an extremely uncertain surface topography and radiation environment. These challenges are being addressed with increased automation based on new GN&C sensors and algorithms. In this talk, I will describe the challenges of both Mars and Europa landings, and the intellectual journey trod by engineers in meeting them.

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Wed, Jun 27th, 2018