By Lenny Pierce
The search for a terrestrial explorer that wouldn’t break the bank – or one of its wheels – continues with NASA’s new “flat lander” design. The new design is for sensor-laden sheets that could be easily dumped off a space craft over a wide area of a planet and beam information back to surrounding satellites. The simple delivery system is the real key here, eliminating the need for the kind of complicated landing strategies necessary for rovers like Curiosity and Opportunity.
The sheets, which give a whole new meaning to the term “space blanket”, would be about 3′x3′ and about 0.4 inches thick. Once deployed from a spacecraft, the flat landers could drift softly down to the surface of a planet without any sort of complicated and accident-prone landing gear like the sky crane used to drop our Mars rovers off. The sheets would be solar powered and could carry flexible forms of instruments like spectrometers, environmental monitoring devices and even small cameras.
I love astrophysical drama as much as the next guy, but flat lander technology could mean less stressful landings than that of Curiosity in 2012. (JPL)
Another major benefit of this design is how many landers could be …read more