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Mars Science Laboratory Entry Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI)


MEDLI collected engineering data during the spacecraft's high-speed, extremely hot entry into the Martian atmosphere. MEDLI data will be invaluable to engineers when they design future Mars missions. The data will help them design systems for entry into the Martian atmosphere that are safer, more reliable, and lighter weight.

MEDLI was provided by NASA's Langley and Ames Research Centers. It is actually made up of two kinds of instruments (with seven sensors of each kind) that were installed in 14 places on the spacecraft's heat shield. The two kinds of instruments are:

  1. MISP (MEDLI Integrated Sensor Plugs)

    When the spacecraft faces extreme heat during entry into the Martian atmosphere, MISP measures how hot it gets at different depths in the spacecraft's heat-shield material. Predicted heating levels are about three times higher than those of the Space Shuttle when it enters Earth's atmosphere. The heating levels are so high, in fact, that the spacecraft's thermal protection system (TPS) is designed to burn away during entry into Mars' atmosphere. MISP will measure the rate of this burning, also known as "recession."

    When they designed the heat shield, engineers predicted what they thought the heating rate would be as a function of time. They will compare their predictions to the actual data collected by MISP. That information will help them learn how much heat-shield material will be needed to protect future Mars missions.

  2. MEADS (Mars Entry Atmospheric Data System)

    MEADS measures the atmospheric pressure on the heat shield at the seven MEADS locations during entry and descent through Mars' atmosphere. The MEADS pressure sensors are arranged in a special cross pattern. This cross pattern will allow engineers to determine the spacecraft's orientation (its position and how that changes) as a function of time. Engineers will use this information to see how well their models predicted the spacecraft's real trajectory (its path) and its aerodynamics (how it acts when moving through the atmosphere). That information will allow them to plan future missions that will have even better performance during critical stages of entry, descent, and landing.


The heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is the largest ever built for a planetary mission.
Biggest-Ever Heat Shield Prepared for Mars Spacecraft
The heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory is the largest ever built for a planetary mission. Technicians in the photo are installing electronics of an instrument for collecting data about temperature and pressure during descent through the atmosphere, the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin

Technicians at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, prepare the heat shield for NASA's Mars Science Laboratory, in this April 2011 photo. With a diameter of 4.5 meters (nearly 15 feet), this heat shield is the largest ever built for a planetary mission.
Preparing Mars Science Laboratory Heat Shield
This view shows the inner surface of the heat shield, where technicians are installing electronics of an instrument for collecting data about temperature and pressure during descent through the atmosphere, the Mars Science Laboratory Entry, Descent and Landing Instrument (MEDLI). Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Lockheed Martin


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