These videos show payloads launched to nearly the speed of sound and then collided with sand or ice, to test an impact method on planets and moons. There is no way to survive a direct impact at terminal velocity on a moon like Europa, without any atmosphere. Instead, rocket deceleration is the likely first choice, followed by a modest impact like this to achieve modest penetration. Why the goofy looking bullet shape? Well firstly, this is a very preliminary test. Secondly, that blunted bullet shape is typical of large armor penetrating rounds; rounds that expect to contain significant payload, explosives or in this case, science equipment. However, there are some major problems with this test, mostly the fact that the impact device pitched nose up in both tests by about 45 degrees. That would tend to reduce the penetration depth significantly. In any event, just an early test that could go in promising directions.
19 August 2013 07:55
Tests are being carried out under a technology development programme for planetary penetrators to assess the feasibility of delivering instrument packages to the subsurface of a planet or icy satellite at high speed.
Traditionally, rovers or landers are delivered to the surface of a planet or moon, where a slow, careful descent is required, and where drilling or digging into the subsurface requires additional payload. But engineers are looking at an alternative way to access the subsurface.
Planetary penetrators delivered directly into the top 3 metres of the surface of a planet or moon offers such an alternative. At around 20 kilograms each, a suite of penetrators with identical payloads could be deployed across a wide surface area to yield key information about the body's interior.
To test the feasibility of such a mission payload, a penetrator study is being carried out as part of ESA's Core Technology Programme for Cosmic Vision, under the supervision of the Future Missions Preparation Office. Two high-speed impact tests were carried out at the rocket sled test facility at the Military of Defence Pendine site in Wales, United Kingdom in July, to test the integrity of the penetrator shell. Astrium UK is leading the high-speed impact study, with additional support from the Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), Qinetiq and Rapid Space Technologies.