Mars ‘Sky Crane’ Revisited? Rover Prototype Drops To Ground Safely In European Tests

by Elizabeth Howell on July 7, 2014

How do you land a machine on the Red Planet? Appears that the answer keeps changing as engineers get smarter about solving the problem.

Over the years, NASA has experimented with approaches ranging from soft landings to inflatable airbags to the famous “Sky Crane” that landed Curiosity on Mars in 2012. And in this video above, you can see the European Space Agency taking the sky crane idea a little further in prototype testing.

“Starting from scratch for the eight-month project, the Dropter team was challenged to produce vision-based navigation and hazard detection and avoidance for the dropship,” the European Space Agency stated. “It has to identify a safe landing site and height before winching down its passenger rover on a set of cables.”

As you can see in the video, the dropship flew as high as 56 feet (17 meters), began lowering the rover around 33 feet (10 meters), and then lowered the rover until the little machine touched the ground.

Read more about the prototype testing here.

The "Dropter" project aims to have a mothership that carries a rover safely to the surface before flying away. Credit: Airbus Defence & Space

The “Dropter” project aims to have a mothership that carries a rover safely to the surface before flying away. Credit: Airbus Defence & Space

About 

Elizabeth Howell is the senior writer at Universe Today. She also works for Space.com, Space Exploration Network, the NASA Lunar Science Institute, NASA Astrobiology Magazine and LiveScience, among others. Career highlights include watching three shuttle launches, and going on a two-week simulated Mars expedition in rural Utah. You can follow her on Twitter @howellspace or contact her at her website.

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