Mars Lander Designs: A Background to MarsOz

Dr Jonathan Clarke

Australian National University

--- Abstract - Full Paper - Profile ---

Abstract: There are two basic types of Mars landers currently proposed, ballistic landers with low lift over drag (L/D) and biconic landers (high L/D). Ballistic landers are simpler to design, construct and fly, but have lower cross-range maneuverability and experience higher thermal and acceleration loads during entry. Biconics are much more challenging to design and fly, but have lower thermal and acceleration loads. Several lander configurations are possible with each type.

  • Conical "headlamp" landers can be either ballistic, as in the Rockwell and Energia studies of the 1960’s, or biconics, where the biconic aeroshell is jettisoned after entry, as with the Caltech mission (CMSM).
  • Cylindrical tuna can landers, as with the Mars Direct (MD) and NASA Design Reference (DRM) Mission version 1.0, feature bioconic aeroshells.
  • Open "coolie hat" landers where components are clustered behind a large open heat shield, as with mid-sixties Energia studies. Some versions of MD feature an extendable coolie hat heat shield.
  • Vertically landed biconics (VLB), as with the 1984 Case for Mars (CfM) and DRM 3.0 studies. Horizontally landed biconics (HLB).

Unlike version 1.0 and 3.0 of the DRM and the MD studies, HLBs, in common with headlamp and coolie-hat designs, do not need to perform a highly dangerous attitude rotation maneuver. Compared with the vertical landed designs, HLBs also provide much better access to equipment when on the ground. This is their most attractive feature when considered as a Mars surface habitat. Some of the earliest concepts for crewed missions to Mars used horizontally landing vehicles, typically gliders or flying wings. These included the von Braun studies of 1953 and 1956, and another by Bono in 1960. These all assumed that the Martian atmosphere, was about 10% of Earth’s. When Mariner 4 showed that the correct figure was actually about 1%, interest in such landers initially evaporated, in favour of various ballistic designs. A partial exception was the CfM study that used vertical landing biconics as both ferries and cargo carriers. The cargo landers were lowered into the horizontal position after landing. Aspects of the CfM were influential in later ISU (1991) and Grover et al. (1996) mission architectures. Horizontally landing biconics have been part of a number of crewed Mars mission proposals from the 1980's and 1990's. They were favoured by RSC Energia in their 1986-87 and 1989 studies, a similar design was used by Keldysh in 1989, and biconic/lifting body hybrids featured in the 1999 Energia proposal. These diverse studies show that a HLB is a valid approach to Crewed Mars landers. The advantages and disadvantages of this configuration needs to be compared against data from existing tuna can MARS. The MSA believes that this is excellent technical justification for basing MARS-OZ on such a configuration.

PROFILE: Dr Jonathan Clarke is a geologist with experience in the mineral and petroleum industry, academia, and in government surveys. He has worked in every state of Australia mostly in the arid interior. In addition he has practiced geology in New Zealand, the Philippines, and the Atacama desert of northern Chile, one of the most Mars-like areas on earth. Dr Clarke presently works for the CRC for Landscape, Environment, and Mineral Exploration (LEME) at the Australian National University, studying the history and evolution of the Australian landscape. Current research interests include: history of aridity in the Atacama desert, the distribution of biogenic opal in the regolith, the palaeogeography of the Nullarbor sea during the Eocene period and the evolution of the landscape of the SE Yilgarn in WA and SW Gawler craton in SA. Dr Clarke was also the lead scientist on the first expedition of Project Jarntimarra in 2001 and is currently project manager for Mars Society Australia’s proposed Mars research facility – MARS-OZ.