Penetrator's communications system protected during deep impact test

CAMBRIDGE, United Kingdom. Space, weapons, and maritime experts from QinetiQ conducted trials at Cambridge University to show that a specially shielded communications system can survive a deliberate impact with Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The test, performed by QinetiQ in a partnership with Airbus and the UCL Mullard Space Science Laboratory (MSSL), is part of an ongoing program supported by the (ESA) to demonstrate the concept of a hard landing on the surface of a planet or moon . A hard lander, instead of trying a gentle touchdown, impacts at speeds of as fast as 300 meters per second, penetrating the surface to collect data from several meters below.

The trial consisted of a small-scale reverse , during which a target representing an ice block was accelerated towards QinetiQ’s bullet-shaped utilizing a single stage gas gun. QinetiQ’s equipment, protected within the penetrator, remained fully operational post test, despite having been subjected to peak loads of as much as 35,000 times the force of gravity.

“Soft landings are notoriously difficult to achieve and require large masses to be put into space, making them expensive endeavors,” says Phillip Church, Principal Engineer, QinetiQ. “A hard lander enables lighter and more compact designs, and can collect data from underground in previously inaccessible areas. The challenge for hard landers is one of survivability; we need to show that vital components can operate effectively after the violent impact.”

Earlier trials used accelerometers and data loggers to study the performance of the protective casing, but recent tests have proven the survivability of real components built by QinetiQ, such as batteries and transceivers.

The earlier trials consisted colliding the penetrator with an ice block at 340 meters per second using the Long Test Track at MOD Pendine, managed by QinetiQ on behalf of the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD). To watch part of this trial, and others carried out on the Long Test Track, view this video here.