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Center Independent Research & Development: JPL IRAD

Venus Safe Landing Technology

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

Even though Venus is our closest planetary neighbor, there is limited information characterizing the Venusian surface. The last NASA Venus mission to include an atmospheric probe component was the Pioneer-Venus mission, which launched in the late 1970s, while the last successful Venus surface sample measurement was made by the Soviet VEGA 1 mission in the mid-1980s. 

This project is geared towards developing the technology required to safely land a spacecraft on the surface of Venus, and will focus on three different components: 1) high temperature and pressure testing of laser-welded Inconel honeycomb crushable for landing impact attenuation, 2) dynamic landing simulations (Adams) to inform a Venus lander design and characterize its performance, and 3) Venus landing site analysis to determine requirements for a lander mechanical design, and to provide inputs into the Adams landing simulations.

Given the vast unknowns that remain, future missions to the surface of Venus will likely produce groundbreaking scientific discoveries, which has resulted in a strong push for Venus mission concepts in the most recent Planetary Decadal Survey. NASA’s interest in Venus was also recently exhibited by the selection of two Venus mission concepts for Step-2 Discovery Program concepts. 

From an engineering standpoint, Venus represents a challenging target for planetary exploration; surface temperatures of ~ 460 degrees celcius and surface pressures of ~ 92 bar are expected, and there is limited data that has adequate resolution to characterize the surface on scales of ~ 1 m (size of a typical lander). Therefore, in order to design a lander for Venus, some assumptions must be made about the environment on the planet’s surface. These assumptions directly feed back into quantitative requirements that drive the mechanical design of a lander. Some examples of relevant surface environmental parameters that should be considered by designers include surface winds, rock distributions, and slope distributions for potential landing sites. Unfortunately, datasets acquired to this day by instruments onboard Venus orbiters have not been of sufficient resolution to characterize individual landing sites. However, existing orbital and ground-based observations, while limited, can be used in conjunction with geological interpretations to characterize potential landing sites for future landed missions. 

In order to further the development of relevant Venus landing technologies, this project focused on three different topics: 1) high temperature and pressure testing of laser-welded Inconel honeycomb crushable for landing impact attenuation, 2) dynamic landing simulations (Adams) to inform a Venus lander design and characterize its performance, and 3) Venus landing site analysis to determine requirements for a lander mechanical design, and to provide inputs into the Adams landing simulations.

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