Better Speed Knowledge Will Allow Safer, More Accurate Landings on Red Planet

Michigan Aerospace Corporation (MAC), an advanced R&D and products company, announced today that they have started work on a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract titled “MARVY: Mars Velocity Sensor.” This contract with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory will modify MAC’s present aircraft-based optical air-data system technology, which uses ultraviolet (UV) laser light to measure air speed, direction, temperature and density, for use in the Martian atmosphere during probe entry and landing. Many variables must be accounted for in order to allow a lander, such as the Mars rover Curiosity (2012), to land as close as possible to a target zone that has been chosen ahead of time for safety and scientific interest. One key factor is the speed through the Martian atmosphere at the time of parachute deployment. Presently, this is estimated via accelerometer data, which for several reasons may not accurately reflect the actual airspeed of the probe. MARVY will be a compact sensor capable of measuring true airspeed from light scattered by both molecules and aerosols in the Martian atmosphere, allowing parachute deployment at a desired true airspeed.

MARVY will extend MAC’s present optical air-data system technology to instruments made of micro-fabricated optical components. The compactness of the resulting sensor, driven by the unforgiving requirements of use aboard spacecraft, will also enable manned aircraft and Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) applications where size and weight are critical considerations.

“Meeting the size, weight and power requirements for planetary exploration is challenging,” says Peter Tchoryk, CEO of Michigan Aerospace. “But the resulting compact design will also be an enabler for other applications on aircraft and wind tunnels.” The project will be led by MAC’s Vice President for R&D, Dr. Dominique Fourguette.