Press Release

Boeing to Design Guidance Parachute Technology for Mars Missions

By SpaceRef Editor
August 16, 2004
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Boeing [NYSE: BA] has won a $1.5 million, three-year NASA Mars Technology Development contract to develop guidance parachute technology for future Mars missions.

The contract award, which will be managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, supports NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, an initiative to utilize cost effective innovations for precision entry, descent and landing. NASA’s proposed robotic Mars missions, using this parachute guidance technology, would be capable of landing on the surface of the planet within four kilometers (2.5 miles) of the target area. The technologies could also have applications for future manned Mars missions.

“This contract allows us to leverage more than four decades of space exploration experience and work with NASA to establish and implement the requirements set forth in the new Vision for Space Exploration,” said Mike Mott, Boeing NASA Systems vice president and general manager. “As the Vision for Space Exploration was set out, we adjusted to meet its challenges, and this contract confirms that our strategic focus meets customer needs.”

Traditional ballistic parachutes used to decelerate planetary entry vehicles are susceptible to Martian winds, which may cause them to drift away from the intended landing site. In January 2004, the Spirit rover encountered high winds during its landing at Gusev Crater. With the Boeing guidance technology, an onboard flight controller would activate the wind drift compensation parachute system during descent to reduce landing site errors.

The guidance system would use three slots or flaps on the periphery of a parachute that open and close, regulating wind airflow. Like thrusters, these slots can produce lateral forces thereby providing lateral control to compensate for wind gusts, governing horizontal velocity. This parachute control already exists on Earth-based ballistic parachutes operating under pilot control.
The building and testing of the prototype parachute system could occur in 2006 with a simulated Mars environmental drop test scheduled for the following year.

John McKinney of Boeing Phantom Works is the principal investigator for the program. The Boeing-led team includes Irvin Aerospace of Orange County, Calif.; Global Solutions for Science and Learning (GSSL) in Tillamook, Oregon; and Oregon State University, Corvallis.

“Wind drift compensation is just part of the overall requirement of future and advanced entry descent and landing systems,” said McKinney. “Any vehicle that performs a final touchdown, such as required for a human mission, must be capable of a stable landing on a potentially difficult landing site.”

In addition to managing the project, Boeing will apply the closed-loop control law to command parachute drive slots to respond to actual wind forces, minimize landing-site error, and produce simulation testing of the overall system with regard to planetary external forces, including parachute aerodynamics, Martian wind models and the control system design.
Irvin will provide the parachute system, including a full scale Mars parachute with slots, control lines, motor and a flight control computer programmed with the Boeing wind drift compensation control algorithm. GSSL will provide additional systems data and engineering support for component integration activities.

Boeing Phantom Works is the advanced research and development unit and catalyst of innovation for The Boeing Company. Through its various groups, it provides leading edge systems and technology solutions to the business units, including Integrated Defense Systems, of which Boeing NASA Systems is part.

A unit of The Boeing Company, Integrated Defense Systems is one of the world’s largest space and defense businesses. Headquartered in St. Louis , Boeing Integrated Defense Systems is a $27 billion business. It provides systems solutions to its global military, government and commercial customers. It is a leading provider of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; the world’s largest military aircraft manufacturer; the world’s largest satellite manufacturer and a leading provider of space-based communications; the primary systems integrator for U.S. missile defense; NASA’s largest contractor; and a global leader in launch services.

Tanya E. Deason-Sharp

The Boeing Company-NASA Systems

Media Relations Specialist

281/226-6070 (p)

281/226-4591 (f)

SpaceRef staff editor.