On Mars, there is a unique type of “tumbleweed” rolling across the Martian plains.
These tumbleweeds are not plants – they are debris from the entry, descent and landing (EDL) equipment of NASA’s Perseverance rover. Percy encountered many of these remains, photographing them so engineers could study them.
During his landing on February 18, 2021a number of hardware elements slowed the speed of the spacecraft by 12,500 mph (20,000 km/h) when it first entered the Martian atmosphere at virtually zero miles per hour when gently brought to the surface by a sky crane. And it all happened in just seven minutes.
After their work was completed, EDL hardware like the parachute, rear shell, heat shield, and sky crane were all dropped from the Perseverance rover, crashing down on Mars some distance from the rover so as not to damage it. .
Over the past year and a half, the Perseverance team has spotted and cataloged about half a dozen suspected EDL debris. The first piece was discovered on April 16, 2022, when an unusually bright object was spotted in one of Perseverance’s Mastcam-Z panoramic photos. “The material was given a descriptive name: ‘shiny material.’ come,” NASA wrote in a blog post (opens in a new tab).
Several months later, Perseverance arrived at this place in the delta, called Hogwallow Flats. On June 12, 2022, he photographed the mysterious object, believed to be a piece of Sky Crane Multi-Layer Insulation (MLI), made of perforated aluminized Kapton (PAK) or Mylar, which flutters in the wind like a flag . . In the same area, the rover also took a snapshot of a fast-moving knotted ball of “string-like material”. It could be Dacron, a mesh used in thermal blankets, according to the operations team.
Interestingly, Hogwallow Flats is over 1.25 miles (two kilometers) from Perseverance’s EDL hardware crash zones. “Hogwallow Flats appears to be a natural collection point for windblown EDL debris,” NASA notes.
The Helicopter Companion of Perseverance Ingenuity moved closer to some of the debris from the EDL. On April 19, 2022, Ingenuity flew over the crash site of Perseverance’s rear hull and parachute, take high resolution images of the debris.
Such intentionally thrown debris fields are not uncommon on Mars, as landings on the Red Planet are usually somewhat violent events. Both Opportunity and Curiosity the rovers also photographed what is believed to be their own EDL debris.
For now, landing spacecraft safely on Mars is the number one priority, but as we continue to plant rovers on the planet, researchers will need to consider the effects of this space junk. “Engineers designing EDL hardware for future missions will need to consider the impact (literally) of their designs on both Mars and mission requirements,” NASA said.