A Full-Size Footpad Test
This setup is being used at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to test a 16-inch-diameter (40-centimeter-diameter) footpad for a future Mars lander. The footpad was plunged into a test bed filled with 10,000 pounds (4,536 kilograms) of simulated Martian soil in order to see how deep it would sink – too far, and the lander's belly could scrape against the ground during touchdown, damaging it.
The Sample Retrieval Lander, which would be central to NASA's Mars Sample Return campaign, is estimated to weigh as much as 5,016 pounds (2,275 kilograms). It would be the heaviest spacecraft ever to land on the Red Planet. In order to understand how energy would be absorbed during the landing of such a massive spacecraft, JPL engineers have been conducting drop tests of a full-size footpad.
Mars Sample Return will revolutionize our understanding of Mars by bringing scientifically selected samples to Earth for study using the most sophisticated instrumentation around the world. NASA's planned Mars Sample Return (MSR) campaign would fulfill one of the highest priority solar system exploration goals identified by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine in the past three decadal surveys. This strategic partnership with the ESA (European Space Agency) features the first mission to return samples from another planet, including the first launch from the surface of another planet. The samples being collected by NASA's Perseverance rover during its exploration of an ancient river delta are thought to be the best opportunity to reveal the early evolution of Mars, including the potential for ancient life.