Mars 2020 supersonic parachute undergoes first NASA tests

Rodiano Bonacci
Novembre 15, 2017

"The imagery of our first parachute inflation is nearly as breathtaking to behold as it is scientifically significant".

A 58-foot-tall Black Brant IX sounding rocket launches from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on October 4. Ian Clark, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said the parachute test was "quite a ride". At the moment of full inflation, the parachute is going 1.8 times the speed of sound or almost 1,300 miles an hour, and generating almost 35,000 pounds of drag force-drag that would be necessary to help slow a payload down as it was entering the Martian atmosphere. "For the first time, we get to see what it would look like to be in a spacecraft hurtling towards the Red Planet, unfurling its parachute". The test took place on October 4, 2017, at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.

The first flight of an advanced supersonic parachute system for Mars 2020-NASA's next Mars rover. The parachute gave a momentum which was 1.8 times the speed of sound or almost 1,300 miles an hour and generated almost 35,000 pounds of drag force, the friction which helps to slow the payload when it was fully inflated.

The parachute, its deployment mechanism, and high definition test instrumentations including the camera were added to the payload of the 50-foot-tall (17.7 meters) Black Brant IX sounding rocket which was used for the test mission.

The test flight carried its payload to a height of about 32 miles (51 kilometers) above Earth's surface, in the upper atmosphere. Data from each test will help scientists ideal their craft and parachute design in preparation for the 2020 mission launch.

The parachute deployment and flight proved a success, and the payload splashed into the Atlantic 34 miles southeast of Wallops Island.

"Everything went according to plan or better than planned", said Clark.

The parachute itself was only very slightly different from the one that was used to successfully land NASA's Mars Science Laboratory on Mars in 2012. However, future tests will use a strengthened parachute and depending on its performance, that version could be used for future Mars missions, including the Mars 2020 mission perhaps.

NASA will test the parachute, named ASPIRE (Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment), again in February next year. It will do this by drilling down beneath the planet's surface where it will collect core samples of rocks and soil.

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