NASA plans to send a supersonic parachute with the Mars 2020 rover to the red planet so as to slow down its descent through the Martian atmosphere. The U.S. space agency successfully tested the said chute on Oct. 4.
A Black Brant IX rocket, measuring 58 feet in length, was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. It carried the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment’s first phase.
The payload capsule began its descent to Earth after gaining an altitude of 32 miles. On reaching a speed of about 1,380 miles per hour, i.e. Mach 1.8, at a height of 26 miles, the supersonic parachute deployed successfully. After 35 minutes into its takeoff, the ASPIRE plummeted down in the Atlantic Ocean.
“It is quite a ride,” said Ian Clark, NASA aerospace engineer and test leader. “The imagery of our first parachute inflation is almost as breathtaking to behold as it is scientifically significant.”
The test parachute was nearly similar to the one used to land the Curiosity rover on the red planet’s surface back in 2012. According to Clark, everything went as per the plan, in fact, better than what was planned.
The test leader added that the launch could not only get the payload to the right velocity conditions at the correct height to best simulate the deployment of a parachute in the atmosphere of Mars but also allowed the engineers to see the parachute flawlessly in action.
Clark added that for the first time, the engineers got to see what it would look like to be in a spacecraft hurtling toward Mars, unfurling its parachute.
The next ASPIRE test is scheduled for February 2018.
The Mars 2020 mission landing system will also include a descent vehicle and an intricate process known as Sky Crane maneuver, which will lower the rover with the help of a cable to the Martian surface.
Mars 2020 Rover
The Mars 2020 rover’s mission will be to hunt for evidence of ancient Martian life. It will carry out the search by conducting drills for core samples that may contain proof of microbial life from the past.
Subsequently, the findings will be cached, and a possible mission in the future might collect them. The rover will also examine different methods to create oxygen from the red planet’s atmosphere.
The rover will be launched sometime during 2020’s summer when Earth and Mars will be relatively near each other. The Mars 2020 rover is scheduled to land on the Martian surface in February 2021.