MARSWRF Prediction of Entry Descent Landing Profiles: Applications to Mars Exploration

Fonseca, R. M., Zorzano, M. P., Martín Torres, J. 2019. MARSWRF Prediction of Entry Descent Landing Profiles: Applications to Mars Exploration. Earth and Space Science 6, 8, 1440-1459 DOI: 10.1029/2019EA000575

In this paper we use the Mars implementation of the Planet Weather Research and Forecasting model, MarsWRF, to simulate the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) vertical profiles from six past missions: Pathfinder, Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and Spirit, Phoenix, Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, and ExoMars 2016 (Schiaparelli), and compare the results with observed data. In order to investigate the sensitivity of the model predictions to the atmospheric dust distribution, MarsWRF is run with two prescribed dust scenarios. It is concluded that the MarsWRF EDL predictions can be used for guidance into the design and planning stage of future missions to the planet, as it generally captures the observed EDL profiles, although it has a tendency to underestimate the temperature and overestimate the density for heights above 15 km. This could be attributed to an incorrect representation of the observed dust loading. We have used the model to predict the EDL conditions that may be encountered by two future missions: ExoMars 2020 and Mars 2020. When run for Oxia Planum and Jezero Crater for the expected landing time, MarsWRF predicts a large sensitivity to the dust loading in particular for the horizontal wind speed above 10-15 km with maximum differences of up to +/- 30 m/s for the former and +/- 15 m/s for the latter site. For both sites, the best time for EDL, that is, when the wind speed is generally the weakest with smaller shifts in direction, is predicted to be in the late morning and early afternoon.

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