NASA Successfully Conducts Supersonic Parachute Test For Mars 2020 Mission

A spacecraft with parachute drifting to the Earth

While NASA’s Curiosity rover is still busy exploring the rocky surface of the Red Planet, the American space agency wants to send one more rover to the Mars in 2020. However, NASA knows very well that landing a rover on Mars is not an easy task to accomplish. The history of Mars landing attempts is full of failure stories, and therefore to ensure that its newest rover lands just perfectly on the Mars, NASA is working on ASPIRE (Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment) project. NASA believes this new parachute system would allow slowing down payload’s descent as it enters the atmosphere of the Mars, thus ensuring a gentle landing of the rover on Martian surface.

Last month, NASA successfully carried out the supersonic parachute test under ASPIRE project for its Mars 2020 mission. The test was conducted on October 4, 2017, and now NASA has uploaded an eye-catching video of the experiment.

“It is quite a ride,” said Ian Clark, an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.

“Everything went according to plan or better than planned.”

The experiment was carried out using a Black Brant IX rocket that was launched from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. This 58-foot-long rocket took with it the ASPIRE payload—including the deployment mechanism, the parachute, and some scientific instruments—to the upper atmosphere of the Earth. The payload was safely separated from the rocket at an altitude of 32 miles (51 km). For the next 42 seconds, the payload remained in a state of free fall in the atmosphere, and then at an altitude of 26 miles (42 km), the parachute was successfully deployed—taking just half-second to inflate.

According to NASA, the complete experiment, including the parachute deployment, was a success. The payload and the parachute splashed into the Atlantic Ocean, about 34 miles from Wallops Island, and were later recovered by the NASA team for assessment.

NASA has announced they will carry out the next ASPIRE test in February 2019. New tests are likely to feature a stronger, reinforced version of the parachute, according to the CNET.

ASPIRE—NASA’s parachute-testing series—is being managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). JPL is also getting support from NASA’s Ames Research Center, California and the Langley Research Center, Virginia in this project. According to NASA, the data gathered from all the experiments of the ASPIRE will be used to finalize the design of the parachute to be used in Mars 2020 mission.

A parachute landing on Earth

The primary aim of NASA’s Mars 2020 mission is to search for any signs of past life on the Red Planet. The main role of the new rover would be to drill the Martian rocks and collect samples of these rocks.

[Featured Image by Bill Ingalls/NASA/Getty Images]