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NASA successfully completed its first high altitude supersonic test of the parachute that the Mars 2020 rover will use as part of its landing operation.
The rocket carried the payload as high as about 32 miles (51 kilometers). Forty-two seconds later, at an altitude of 26 miles (42 kilometers) and a velocity of 1.8 times the speed of sound, the test conditions were met and the Mars parachute successfully deployed. Thirty-five minutes after launch, ASPIRE splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean about 34 miles (54 kilometers) southeast of Wallops Island. “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 tested during this first flight was almost an exact copy of the parachute used to land NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory successfully on the Red Planet in 2012. Future tests will evaluate the performance of a strengthened parachute that could also be used in future Mars missions. The Mars 2020 team will use data from these tests to finalize the design for its mission.
There is a nice video of this test flight at the link.
At first glance one wonders why they need to do these tests, since the parachute system is going to be almost identical to the one used by Curiosity in 2012, and that worked perfectly. However, they really aren’t testing the parachute but the system to fly and test future parachutes at the high altitudes that mimic Martian conditions. With this test technology working and available, it will make it possible to test all kinds of parachute designs for use on Mars, even Rogollo hang-glider chutes.