Skip to main content

Watch NASA test the supersonic parachute for the 2020 Mars mission

NASA’s Mars 2020 Supersonic Parachute: Test Flight #1
Last month, NASA took another step towards the Red Planet with a test of its supersonic parachute, designed to slow the spacecraft down as it enters the Martian atmosphere at more than 12,000 mph. A dramatic video on board the test flight captured the parachute opening flawlessly at nearly twice the speed of sound.

“It is quite a ride! The imagery of our first parachute inflation is almost as breathtaking to behold as it is scientifically significant,” said Ian Clark of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “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.”

Related Videos

An earlier parachute test resulted in a failure, with the parachute shredding soon after deployment.

The first phase of the Advanced Supersonic Parachute Inflation Research Experiment (ASPIRE) was launched aboard a Black Brant IX rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia. After reaching a height of 32 miles, the payload capsule began to plummet back to Earth. Once it reached a speed of Mach 1.8 at an altitude of 26 miles, the Mars parachute deployed successfully. The ASPIRE splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean 35 minutes after liftoff

The test parachute was almost identical to the one used to land NASA’s Curiosity rover on the surface of the red planet in 2012. “Everything went according to plan or better than planned,” said Clark. The next ASPIRE test is planned for February of 2018. “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.”

In addition to the parachute, the Mars mission’s landing system includes a descent vehicle and a tricky procedure known as a “skycrane maneuver,” which lowers the rover on a cable to the surface.

The Mars 2020 rover will look for signs of ancient Martian life by drilling for core samples that may contain evidence of past microbial life and “cache” them for collection during a possible future mission. It will also test different methods of producing oxygen from the Martian atmosphere.

After launching during the summer of 2020, when the two planets are relatively close to each other, the rover is scheduled to set down on the surface of Mars in February 2021.

Editors' Recommendations

NASA marks a year since Mars drone’s historic first flight
NASA's Ingenuity helicopter.

NASA’s team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California is celebrating one year since its plucky Ingenuity helicopter became the first aircraft to achieve controlled, powered flight on another planet.

Ingenuity's maiden flight took place on April 19, 2021, and the team marked occasion by sharing a video showing that special moment 12 months ago when news came through that the drone-like aircraft had successfully performed its record-breaking first flight:

Read more
NASA footage shows SpaceX Crew-4 training for ISS mission
SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts.

NASA has shared raw footage of SpaceX’s Crew-4 astronauts training for their space station mission that’s set to get underway in just a few days' time.

The 30-minute reel (below) shows NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins, along with Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency, undergoing a range of training techniques to prepare them for the ride to and from the International Space Station (ISS), as well as their six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Read more
Watch NASA’s Crew-3 astronauts share highlights of their ISS mission
Crew-3 astronauts talk about their mission on the ISS.

NASA’s Crew-3 astronauts have been talking about their six-month mission aboard the International Space Station (ISS) shortly before their return to Earth.

NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, along with ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, answered reporters’ questions during an event on Friday, April 15. All except Marshburn have been on their first mission to space.

Read more