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
Recommended Videos
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.”

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.”

Image used with permission by copyright holder

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

Former Digital Trends Contributor
Mark’s first encounter with high-tech was a TRS-80. He spent 20 years working for Nintendo and Xbox as a writer and…
NASA marks a year since Mars drone’s historic first flight

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’s Ingenuity helicopter sets new flight records on Mars

NASA’s space helicopter has set two new flight records on Mars.

During what the mission team described as Ingenuity’s “most ambitious flight” among its 25 trips to date, the 4-pound, 19-inch-high helicopter flew a distance of 2,324.2 feet (708.4 meters), smashing its previous record of 2,072.8 feet (631.8 meters) by 251.4 feet (76.6 meters).

Read more
Watch how the Perseverance rover drives autonomously across Mars

NASA’s Perseverance rover has been trundling across the surface of Mars since arriving on the planet in spectacular fashion in February last year.

The six-wheeled, SUV-sized vehicle is currently on its way to the Jezero River Delta as it continues its search for evidence of ancient microbial life on the red planet.

Read more