This section is abstracted from papers by Robert Braun and his students at Georgia Tech, and Rob Manning of JPL.79
As Braun and Manning point out, the United States has successfully landed five robotic systems on the surface of Mars. These systems all had landed mass below
79 Entry, Descent,and Landing Challenges of Human Mars Exploration, G. Wells, J. Lafleur, A. Verges, K. Manyapu, J. Christian, C. Lewis, and R. Braun, AAS 06-072; "Mars Exploration Entry, Descent and Landing Challenges," R. D. Braun and R. M. Manning, Aerospace Conference, 2006 IEEE, March 2006; Sizing of an Entry, Descent, and Landing System for Human Mars Exploration, John A. Christian, Grant Wells, Jarret Lafleur, Kavya Manyapu, Amanda Verges, Charity Lewis, and Robert D. Braun, Georgia Institute of Technology, preprint, 2006.
600 kg, had landed footprints on the order of 100's of km, and landed at sites below —1 km MOLA elevation due to the need to perform entry, descent, and landing operations in an environment with sufficient atmospheric density. For human missions to Mars, vehicles of mass 40 mT or greater may have to be landed. According to NASA mission concepts, payloads will be aerocaptured into Mars orbit prior to descent to the surface. Since several payloads must be landed at the same site, pinpoint landing to within 10-100 m is also required. Compared with robotic landers, human missions require a simultaneous two orders of magnitude increase in landed mass capability, four orders of magnitude increase in landed accuracy, and EDL operations that may need to be completed in a lower density (higher surface elevation) environment.
As of 2006, robotic exploration systems engineers were struggling with the challenges of increasing landed mass capability to 1 mT, while reducing landed errors to tens of km, and landing at a site as high as +2 km MOLA elevation.
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