ExoMars 2020 parachutes damaged during test


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Bad news: The parachutes for the European/Russian ExoMars 2020 mission were damaged during a parachute test.

A May 28 test of the parachute system used a high-altitude balloon above the Swedish Space Corporation’s Esrange test site in northern Sweden. The test was intended to demonstrate the end-to-end performance of the entire system, including both the pilot and main chutes as well as the mortars used to extract the pilot chutes.

ESA said that the first main parachute suffered several radial tears in its fabric, all occurring before reaching its maximum load. The second main parachute also suffered a single tear, also before peak loading.

The other parts of the parachute system worked as expected, and ESA said “a good level of the expected aerodynamic drag was nevertheless achieved” despite the damage sustained by the parachutes. However, the agency acknowledged that the problem needs to be understood and corrected prior to the mission’s launch in one year.

They can easily get the parachutes repaired before the July 2020 launch. The problem is figuring out what caused the damage and fixing that in the time left. They already had planned two more parachute tests, but these cannot happen prior to all the fixes, and then they have to work.

Considering that they will only assemble the spacecraft at the end of this year, I am increasingly thinking that ExoMars 2020 will not launch in 2020. And if it does, I will not be surprised if it turns out to be a failure.

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2 comments

  • Richard M

    Ominous to have a test failure on such a critical system this late in the schedule.

    I hope they can solve it, because ExoMars has the capability to do some amazing science if it can make it to Mars intact.

  • MDN

    Parachutes are HARD. Watch the PBS NOVA about the Mars Exploration Rover program and they share details on similar problems they encountered just 6 months or so before launch.

    My wife worked at NASA Ames Research Center where they figured it out using the 80 foot x 120 foot wind tunnel to test many variations of parachute configuration until they found one that worked reliably.

    You can’t model parachutes opening as that is in the domain of turbulent flow that computers suck at. It’s simply too computationally intensive, even with TODAY’S best supercomputers.

    But with good old wind tunnels and physical test articles you can figure it out. But it takes time and having a Full Scale facility like they do at Ames.

    And they have a fixed design with a now unchangeable (I suspect due to schedule) volume to fit the parachute into, so it will be interesting to see if they get it fixed or miss the launch window.

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