NASA Performs Supersonic Parachute Testing for Mars 2020 Mission

The parachute that will safely guide the Mars 2020 rover down to the Red Planet’s surface has successfully completed its first supersonic opening. The test was performed using a Bristol Aerospace Black Brant IX sounding rocket that was launched from Wallops on October 4.

“It is quite a ride,” said the test’s technical lead from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ian Clark. “The imagery of our first parachute inflation is almost as breathtaking to behold as it is scientifically significant. 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 Black Brant IX carried the ASPIRE test payload with the experimental parachute to an altitude of 51 kilometres (32 miles). Forty-two seconds later, the rocket’s velocity had reached 1.8 times the speed of sound and the parachute was deployed successfully at an altitude of 42 kilometres (26 miles).

“Everything went according to plan or better than planned,” said Clark. “We not only proved that we could get our payload to the correct altitude and velocity conditions to best mimic a parachute deployment in the Martian atmosphere, but as an added bonus, we got to see our parachute in action as well.”

The parachute currently being tested has already been flight proven on the Red Planet. An almost exact copy of it was used to successfully land NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory in 2012. However, the Mars 2020 rover will need to contend with entry speeds of around 5.4 kilometres per second (12,000 mph) and as a result, NASA prefers to err on the side of caution.

The next ASPIRE parachute test is planned for early 2018.

Image Credit: NASA/Wallops

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.