System Checkouts on Testbed for Europa Lander Landing Gear
Engineer Matthew Cameron-Hooper performs a checkout on some systems of the Europa Lander landing gear testbed at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California on May 27, 2022.
Europa Lander is a concept for a potential future mission that would look for signs of life in the icy surface material of Jupiter's moon Europa. The moon is thought to contain a global ocean of salty water beneath its frozen crust. If life exists in that ocean, signs of its existence called biosignatures could potentially find their way to the surface. In this mission concept, a spacecraft would land on Europa and collect and study samples from about 4 inches (10 centimeters) beneath the surface, looking for signs of life.
The Europa Lander landing gear testbed was developed to test and inform the design of the landing gear for the spacecraft: It mimics the landing loads and ground interaction forces that a single flight landing gear would experience when touching down on the Europan surface. It does this by using gravity offloading to simulate the reduced gravity on Europa, and by replicating the mass and inertial properties of a flight lander as well as all the degrees of freedom that the landing gear would experience.
This system checkout confirmed two critical functionalities of the testbed: low friction of the horizontal degree of freedom that carries the test landing gear, and proper functioning of the gravity offloading system. Together these functionalities ensure that only ground interaction forces cause the test landing gear to come to a stop during a test, just as a flight landing gear would experience when landing on the Europan surface.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California managed the landing technology development of the proposed Europa Lander mission.