Skip to main content

European Space Agency tests giant parachute for its 2021 ExoMars mission

Parachutes may just help us get to Mars. A few days ago, the European Space Agency (ESA) tested its ExoMars landing parachutes for the first time, and happily, the trial parachute made it to ground without incident. Sure, the chute was deployed less than a mile above the Earth’s surface, but still, the fact that it managed to land smoothly marked a major milestone: It proved the ability of the parachute to descend with no fewer than 112 lines connected to a 1,100-pound test load. The parachute weighs in at 154 pounds total, and will be crucial to delivering the ExoMars rover to the Red Planet in a few years’ time.

The parachute, if successful, will become the largest ever to fly on a Mars mission, while the rover in tow will be the “first of its kind to drill below the surface and determine if evidence of life is buried underground, protected from the destructive radiation that impinges the surface today,” the ESA noted in a release. The latest test took place in sub-zero conditions in Kiruna, Sweden, which is meant to imitate the frigid temperatures the parachute will face on Mars. In its next test, the ESA will deploy the chute from a stratospheric balloon hovering around 19 miles off the ground — this ought to more closely reflect Mars’ low atmospheric pressure.

“The successful deployment of our large ExoMars parachute using a smaller pilot chute and its subsequent stable descent without damage, is a major milestone for the project,” said ESA’s Thierry Blancquaert, one of the members of the ExoMars team. “It was a very exciting moment to see this giant parachute unfurl and deliver the test module to the snowy surface in Kiruna.”

Later on in testing, the ESA will conduct a “full parachute deployment sequence, which comprises two main parachutes, each with a pilot chute,” the agency noted. If all goes well, we can expect to see the spacecraft carrying the chute take off in 2020. “We’re looking forward to assessing the full parachute descent sequence in the upcoming high-altitude tests,” Blancquaert noted. And we can say quite certainly, so are we.

Editors' Recommendations

Lulu Chang
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Fascinated by the effects of technology on human interaction, Lulu believes that if her parents can use your new app…
See spring arriving on Mars in these ExoMars images
Dune fields in the Green Crater of Mars

The European Space Agency (ESA) and Roscosmos's ExoMars orbiter has captured four new images of Mars, showing various craters across the planet's surface during springtime.

Argyre impact basin after spring equinox ESA/ExoMars/CaSSIS

Read more
NASA successfully launches its Perseverance rover on mission to Mars
The Perseverance rover launches atop an Atlas V rocket

NASA has successfully launched its Perseverance rover on its journey to Mars, where it should land in the Jezero crater on February 18, 2021.

The rover, along with the experimental Ingenuity helicopter, was launched atop an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 7:50 a.m. ET on Thursday, July 30.
How the launch proceeded
The Perseverance rover launches atop an Atlas V rocket on July 30, 2020. NASA TV

Read more
Watch NASA’s handy overview of its ambitious Mars 2020 rover mission
Perseverance illustration

NASA’s highly anticipated Mars 2020 mission is all set for launch on Thursday, July 30.
The mission’s primary goals are to search for signs of ancient life, gather rock and soil samples for return to Earth at a later date, and collect data for future human exploration of the faraway planet.
While NASA's Perseverance rover will carry out much of the work, the mission will also see an aircraft fly for the very first time on another planet when the Ingenuity helicopter lifts off from the Martian surface.
Just a couple of days before United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V rocket blasts off carrying Perseverance, Ingenuity, and also a piece of Mars rock, a new NASA video (below) offers a brief but informative overview of the ambitious mission.
Mission Overview: NASA's Perseverance Mars Rover
Perseverance is a more advanced version of NASA’s Curiosity rover, which continues to explore Mars after arriving there in 2012.
About the size of a small car, NASA’s newest rover has six rugged wheels, a plethora of scientific instruments, a 2-meter-long robotic arm, 23 cameras, and, for the first time, a couple of microphones that will capture the possibly eerie sound of Martian winds -- as well as any other noises that we don’t yet know about.
The Perseverance rover mission is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral in Florida at 7:50 a.m. on Thursday, (here's how to watch the event online). But space fans eager for updates from the Mars mission will have to be patient as the rover won’t reach its destination until February 2021.
There’s a lot of interest in Mars just now as a growing number of countries seek to reach the red planet. Just a few days ago China launched a rover and orbiter bound for Mars, and shortly before that the United Arab Emirates sent an orbiter. Meanwhile, preparations are currently underway for a joint European/Russian mission in 2022, with Japan and India also planning separate Mars missions in the next couple of years.
As for the first human mission, there are no concrete plans yet, though we could see an attempt sometime in the 2030s, with NASA eyeing such a mission via its Artemis program.

Read more