Analysis of atmospheric mesoscale models for entry, descent, and landing



[1] Each Mars Exploration Rover (MER) is sensitive to the Martian winds encountered near the surface during the entry, descent, and landing (EDL) process. These winds are strongly influenced by local (mesoscale) conditions. In the absence of suitable wind observations, wind fields predicted by Martian mesoscale atmospheric models have been analyzed to guide landing site selection. In order to encompass the available models and render them useful to the EDL engineering team, a series of statistical techniques was applied to the model results. These analyses cover the high-priority landing sites during the expected landing times (1200–1500 LT). The number of sites studied is limited by the computational and analysis cost of the mesoscale models. The statistical measures concentrate on the effective mean wind (the wind as seen by the landing system) and on the vertical structure of the horizontal winds. Both aspects are potentially hazardous to the MER landing system. In addition, a number of individual wind profiles from the mesoscale model were processed into a form that can be used directly by the EDL Monte Carlo simulations. The statistical analysis indicates that the Meridiani Planum and Elysium landing sites are probably safe. The Gusev Crater and Isidis Basin sites may be safe, but further analysis by the EDL engineers will be necessary to quantify the actual risk. Finally, the winds at the Melas Chasma landing site (and presumably other Valles Marineris landing sites) are dangerous. While the statistical parameters selected for these studies were primarily of engineering and safety interest, the techniques are potentially useful for more general scientific analyses. One interesting result of the current analysis is that the depth of the convective boundary layer (and thus the resulting energy density) appears to be primarily driven by the existence of a well-organized mesoscale (or regional) circulation, primarily driven by large-scale topographic features at Mars.